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FINDING THE RIGHT CURE

- Better Access to Oral Health Care Would Prevent Needless Hospital ER Visits, Saving Time and Money, Group Says –

(NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY) – Hundreds of visits to local hospital emergency rooms (ERs) could be prevented if residents with serious dental problems had better access to oral health treatment, says a local advocacy group.

Representatives of the Northumberland Oral Health Coalition say there would be significant savings in health care costs, and less strain put on local ER doctors, if an investment was made to boost access to dental treatment services. Currently, OHIP pays to treat pain and infection in every part of the body, except for the mouth. This means many adults in Northumberland County and Ontario suffer with pain and infection from poor oral health because they cannot afford to get regular dental treatment. High cost and lack of dental insurance are among the barriers to care.

“Often, people with serious dental problems have no choice but to go to hospital to treat the pain,” says Sue Hochu, Chairperson of the Northumberland Oral Health Coalition. “Unfortunately, hospital ERs are not equipped to provide dental treatment, and often can only send the person home with antibiotics or painkillers.”

In 2012, there were a total of 599 visits to hospitals in Cobourg and Campbellford for oral health issues, based on Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care data obtained by the local Oral Health Coalition. Just over half – 306 ER visits – were made to Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg. Another 293 visits for oral health issues were made to Campbellford Memorial Hospital.

“Most of these ER visits are unnecessary and could be prevented if the person with serious oral health problems had access to a dental professional right away,” Hochu adds. “That is less costly and a much better investment for all of us.”

In 2008, the provincial government committed to develop a program to pay dental costs for low-income families. Financial-assistance programs were created or expanded, but only cover dental treatment for low-income children – not adults. Even here, the income eligibility for families to access money to pay for dental care is extremely low, meaning many cannot qualify for assistance.

This fall, a petition was presented at Queen’s Park asking the Ontario government to address concerns related to dental care funding. The petition calls for any unspent money earmarked to pay for children’s dental care instead be redirected to adults who cannot afford care. Approximately, 150 Northumberland residents signed the petition.

“We hope that the issue can be addressed, because a hospital ER is not the cure for dental problems,” Hochu adds.

In this area, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit administers a number of financial-support programs for families who need urgent dental care. People can find out more by calling the Health Unit toll-free at 1-866-888-4577 or visiting www.hkpr.on.ca.

The Port Hope Community Health Centre also offers basic dental treatment and preventive oral care for low-income residents of all ages, at a lower cost. People can call the Community Health Centre at (905) 885-2626 for more information.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Sue Hochu, Chairperson, Northumberland Oral Health Alliance, (905) 885-9100,

or Krista Skutovich, Health Promoter, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100.

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