Ontario must address dental care for low-income kids
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Teeth aren’t covered by medicare, leaving many unable to afford expensive, private treatment.
May 12 2014. Editorial
In the war on poverty, proper access to oral health care has always been a losing battle.
Unless you have disposable cash or a good benefit plan from work, the high cost of dental care means that good treatment can be out of reach.
And as the Star’s Diana Zlomislic reported last week, new data from the Toronto Public Health department drives home that inequality in nearly half of the city’s elementary schools.
Hygienists examined nearly 220,000 students and designated 44 per cent of the schools “high risk” because of the rotting state of children’s teeth. What a shameful example of an antiquated and inadequate system.
Why is this happening? Because in Canada, the mouth and teeth aren’t included in the medicare system that covers care for the rest of the body.
Something has to change — and the focus should be on greater access to public dental health care for children and low-income working adults.
Certainly that’s the position of the Canadian Paediatric Society, which hasrecommended that dental care get the same universal access as all other treatments that fall under the Canadian Health Act.
There’s no reason why the mouth should be separated from the body, just because bad policy decisions were made in the past. Indeed, tooth decay and infection can affect other parts of the body and lead to expensive emergency care in hospitals.
Left unchecked, dental abscesses can do terrible damage, travelling through the facial cavities to the eyes or down to the heart. In the worst-case scenarios, an infected tooth can cause blindness and heart disease.
Here in Ontario, the Liberal government has made some improvements to preventive care for low-income children, but based on the Toronto Public Health data, it’s clear that far more work is needed. And Ontario does nothing for the working poor who also suffer from the pain of untreated teeth.
That’s why Jacquie Maund, of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, says dental care should become an issue in the provincial election. Working alongside the Ontario Oral Health Alliance, Maund says the groups will push the party leaders to expand the current prevention programs by creating better outreach in high-risk communities and adding care for low-income adults.
It will be interesting to hear the answers. The problem is too important to ignore. And as politicians well know, prevention is half the cure.
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