Survey: Why can't you get dental care?

By Cheryl Clock, The Standard

Advocates for better dental care in Niagara want to hear from adults and seniors who face barriers to getting care for their teeth.

The Niagara Dental Health Coalition, an organization that campaigns for better access to dental health care for people who live on low-income, has launched a survey. It wants to hear the reasons why people aren't getting the care they need, says Lori Kleinsmith, coalition chair.

The survey questions people about everything from the health of their teeth and insurance coverage, to where they go in a dental emergency. It also examines the human repercussions of not seeing a dentist.

“It's not just through the lens of health,” says Kleinsmith. “We know that it goes far beyond, and impacts people in many different aspects of their lives.”

Teeth that hurt can cause eating and sleeping problems. Missing or neglected teeth can affect social interactions and the ability of a person to get a job. “They may not feel comfortable smiling,” she says. It can lead to stigma and discrimination.

A 2010 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 35 per cent of people in Niagara do not have dental insurance. And Niagara Health System data shows that in 2015, there were roughly 2,000 visits to its emergency departments for dental problems.

When people experience pain and infection, and have no where else to turn, they might go to a walk-in clinic, a doctor's office, or the ER, where they can only get painkillers, antibiotics but no actual treatment, she says.

Provincially, this costs the healthcare system about $38 million every year.

Information from the survey will be used by the coalition to give its advocacy work more weight. To put evidence, behind the anecdotes, says Kleinsmith.

“We talk to people all the time; we hear about it,” she says. “But it's not getting the level of attention, there's just not a sense of urgency for change to happen.”

The solution is twofold. More employers, including small business, need to offer benefit packages and more employees need to have work benefits, including part-time and seasonal workers.

And the provincial government needs to expand its publicly funded dental care system. In 2014, it promised to extend programs to low-income adults by 2025.

But that's a long time to wait for people living with teeth problems now, she says. In the interim, the government could build on its Healthy Smiles program for children, and offer it to adults, she says.

“We are trying to send a message and get our political leaders from all levels of government to speak out,” she says.

“We need to do something different, because what we currently have in place is not working.

“There's far too many people who are being left out of the system.”

The survey is available online, and in paper form at community health centres across the region, and through Niagara Public Health, until March 10.


Dental care barriers survey



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