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- As Access to Dental Treatment Improves for Children and Youth, Help is Still Lacking for Adults, Says Local Group –

(NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY) – While progress is being made to improve access to dental treatment for children and youth, there is still one key ingredient missing from the mix, say local oral health advocates.

Improved treatment options for adults with serious dental problems are still lacking despite recent improvements in dental care coverage in Ontario, according to the Northumberland Oral Health Coalition. “We are on the right road to making dental care more accessible for everyone, but we still have further to go to reach our destination,” notes coalition chairperson Sue Hochu.

In mid-December 2013, the Ontario government announced it was improving access to free dental care services for children and youth. Starting in April 2014, an additional 70,000 Ontario children will be eligible to receive free dental care through the Healthy Smiles Ontario program. As well by mid-2015, the provincial government will merge the six dental programs that now serve low-income and disabled children into one single service to improve administration and access.

Hochu applauds these changes, noting they address concerns raised by the Northumberland Oral Health Coalition in a letter sent to Ontario Health and Long-Term Care Minister Deb Matthews in October 2013. However, the coalition notes, the changes still fall short in filling the gap for low-income adults who have serious dental problems but cannot afford to see a dentist. A 2012 Public Health Ontario study found that among Ontarians who had not recently visited a dentist, one of five people cited cost as a barrier.

“While government-run financial-support programs exist to pay for dental care for children and youth, there is nothing for adults and they fall through the cracks,” says Hochu. “Many adults with serious dental problems have no choice but to go to hospital to treat the pain. The sad reality is that many of these dental problems are preventable if they could see a dentist.”

In 2012, there were 599 visits to hospital emergency rooms (ERs) in Cobourg and Campbellford for oral health issues, based on data obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. “Nearly three-quarter of these visits were considered less urgent and could have been managed elsewhere in the community, rather than taking up valuable hospital ER resources,” Hochu notes.

The Northumberland Oral Health Coalition was formed in 2005 to address the gap in dental care in Northumberland County. The coalition includes people who work in private dental care, Health Unit staff, representatives from other community agencies and concerned citizens. According to Hochu, coalition members see the effects first hand of people who suffer from poor oral health.

This includes a resident of Northumberland County who knows what it is like to suffer from poor dental health. A retired man recently told coalition members he was self-employed for most of his life and never had access to private dental benefits. Cost was a major factor why he did not visit a dentist for four decades. He put up with toothaches and dental pain for years, and was always aware of his poor dental health when dealing with customers and meeting people in social settings. This man’s health was also affected by not being able to eat properly because of the poor condition of his teeth.

“I was often afraid to bite or chew for fear a tooth would break,” the man told coalition members. “I was dangerously underweight and my doctor advised that this gain was necessary to avoid other health problems.”

Recently, this man was referred by his doctor to the Port Hope Community Health Centre (PHCHC) for treatment of his dental problems. The Port Hope Community Health Centre (905-885-2626) offers basic dental treatment and preventive oral care for low-income adults of all ages, at a lower cost. At the PHCHC, the man was able to afford to pay for several extractions, new fillings and a partial denture to address his dental problems. He now sees a dental hygienist on a regular basis as well.

“The pain is finally gone, I eat better, and I no longer have to hide my smile,” he told coalition members.

The Northumberland Oral Health Coalition is hoping for more success stories like this one. “It’s a wise investment if we can prevent dental problems like severe toothaches and infection before they become more serious health care issues,” Hochu notes. “People who cannot afford dental treatment deserve the same quality of life, just like those who can afford to visit the dentist.”

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For media inquiries, contact:

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

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