Provincial Dental Programs in Ontario Lack Funding
When confronted with the issue of overcrowded emergency rooms, we often seek to bolster the number of family physicians in the area in an attempt to relieve this crowding. However, according to Dr. Victor Kutcher, the recently named president of the Ontario Dental Association (ODA), providing residents of Ontario with greater access to dental care should be higher on the priority list.

Because many provincial dental programs are severely underfunded, according to Dr. Kutcher, many lower income families are forced to seek dental care via their local hospital’s emergency room, rather than making a simple visit to the local dentist’s office.

Serving a Need

When you consider that issues like abscessed teeth can be treated more effectively, and in a more cost-efficient manner at the dentist’s office, we can see why Dr. Kutcher is calling for greater funding at the provincial level.

Dr. Kutcher is also quick to point out the need for improved provincial dental care for youth throughout Ontario. Dental problems are believed to be a primary cause of absence amongst school-age youth, and regular, proper dental care can help detect signs of diabetes, heart disease, and oral cancer while there’s still a chance to combat these conditions.

Although Dr. Kutcher currently operates a successful dental practice near Eastgate Square, the ODA’s new president is looking forward to upcoming changes in the publicly funded Healthy Smiles Ontario program. These changes are set to extend access to more than 70,000 additional children from low income families, many of which would otherwise be unable to afford quality dental care.

The Need for More

While the tweaks to the Healthy Smiles Ontario program represent a significant step forward, Dr. Kutcher believes additional funding is still needed if the region is to truly improve access to dental services. According to Dr. Kutcher, “Ontario dentists have the lowest remuneration rate in Canada for publicly funded services, receiving on average just 46 per cent of the fees set by the Ontario Dental Association’s suggested fee guide.”

For a number of years, Ontario dentists offered independent programs aimed at meeting the needs of low-income families in the region. However, these programs were placed under the control of the provincial government in the 1990s. “Over time, the funding from the government has decreased rather dramatically,” says Dr. Kutcher.

This puts dentists in the region in a predicament. Many continue to treat patients that rely on the provincial program, despite knowing that it is unlikely they’ll recover the full costs of care. This doesn’t sit particularly well with Dr. Kutcher, who has practiced in the area for 34 years. “No politician would work at less than 50 per cent of their pay,” he says, “We’re expected to do so [when treating patients covered under the provincial program].”

Moving Forward

Despite the issues still needing to be resolved, the province’s commitment to revamping the Healthy Smiles Ontario program is a step in the right direction. The changes will combine a number of different programs under a common heading in an attempt to reduce paperwork and administrative confusion.

Kutcher, for his part, is quick to point out that the region’s provincial dental program also needs increased funding if its goal is truly to increase access to quality dental care. According to Premier Kathleen Wynne, the program was allocated $30 million in funding for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

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Posted by: DSR
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Tag: Dental
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