Ontario Healthcare Reform Must Incorporate Oral Health Care
The Ontario government has proposed a massive reform of the provincial healthcare system. Unfortunately, this reform is moving forward without consideration for one of the most important elements of healthcare: primary oral care. If Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long Term Care, truly wishes this reform to be “Patients First,” he must factor dental hygiene into the equation.

Surprisingly, dentists are not considered part of the primary healthcare system, and most physicians are not trained to treat mouth diseases that affect the teeth and gums. Currently, primary mouth care is not covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), and the typical hospital is poorly, if at all, equipped to deliver quality dental care.

A Huge Gap in Oral Care

In Ontario, public dental programs are only available for low-income children under 18 and basic services for people receiving social assistance are patchy, at best. For example, people who develop extreme dental pain and can’t afford to see a dentist are typically out of luck. Emergency room staff will typically administer a prescription for painkillers or antibiotics and advise a dental visit, which isn’t very helpful if a dental visit isn’t in your personal emergency healthcare budget.

When left untreated, mouth diseases eventually result in the need for more costly procedures, and can sometimes lead to extended hospital stays. In 2014 alone, there were nearly 61,000 emergency room visits related to dental problems.

Some estimates suggest that one individual arrives at a hospital emergency room complaining of a dental problem every nine minutes. With the minimum cost of a hospital visit estimated at $513, Canadian taxpayers spend about $31 million annually for emergency room physicians to acknowledge that patients are suffering from dental diseases that they are unqualified to treat.

We Know It’s Important

At the time when Medicare was first introduced, primary mouth care wasn’t included. This was largely due to the fact that we had yet to correlate poor dental hygiene with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.

Now, science has proven that good oral health and good overall health go hand-in-hand. In other words, “Our teeth and gums are part of our body, and poor oral health affects our overall health and well-being.”

Despite this knowledge, The College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario still estimates that two to three million Ontarians have not seen a dentist in the past year. The main reason for this alarming trend has been identified as the high cost of dental services.

The fact remains that both the private dental system and the region’s patchwork of public oral healthcare programs are failing to meet the needs of the community’s most vulnerable populations, which include low income families and workers without dental insurance, low income seniors and the elderly in institutions, indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, and people living in rural and remote areas.

It’s Time to Take Action

The Ontario government must ensure that low income citizens have access to preventive oral care and treatment if it wishes to reduce visits to hospital emergency rooms, improve health outcomes, and reduce acute care health costs.

In order to do so in the most efficient manner possible, the Ontario government should consider delivering services through publicly funded dental clinics in public health units, Community Health Centres, and Aboriginal Health Access Centres. These institutions already serve vulnerable communities, and implementing additional clinics will only increase their ability to have a positive impact on our country’s most disadvantaged populations.

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, August 1, 2016
Tag: Dental
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