The pandemic brought to light the systemic inequalities plaguing our healthcare system. Problems with access to dental care disproportionately hurt lower-income families at a time when they needed it most. In addition, supply chain issues and soaring demand, has made dental care even more inaccessible to lower income families. In response to the crisis in access to dental care, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has launched a dental care program for lower-income families. Some experts in Ontario believe that the problem requires an even more radical solution: universal dental care.
What is the Crisis in Access to Dental Care?
Dentists are unable to offer the full range of tools to deal with dental problems suffered by their patients. This is because the best solutions to non-traumatic dental problems such as toothaches go beyond the normal prescription of antibiotics and painkillers. Dentists can do more, but their hands are tied by the costs that patients have to face for superior dental care.
Patients are left to dental care benefits or private funds, patients have limited recourse. Yet, these dental problems are very common. A 2017 survey found that a patient visits an emergency ward in Ontario every nine minutes with some kind of dental complaint. The cost to the province is some $31 million per year.
With the pandemic, access to dental care has become even more compromised. Resources are strained, many Ontarians have eaten through their savings, and have been unemployed or underemployed.
Existing health care plans, such as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, typically do not cover dental procedures. Publicly funded plans are largely inaccessible, despite their being designed to help. At issue is the lack of funding.
How Does Universal Dental Care Work?
A universal dental care program would essentially cover everyone. An Elm Hill Ontario dentist believes that Ontario is badly in need of a big solution to meet the challenge of dental care inaccessibility. One such solution is universal dental care.
Last year, the Standing Committee on Health adopted a motion to study the viability of a federal level dental care program. Given that Parliament was later prorogued, that motion will have to be readopted so that it can proceed.
The Ontario Health Alliance believes that priority must be given to first expanding existing programs to cover the most at-risk people, before we attempt the more ambitious goal of a universal dental care plan. With a fifth of Canadians not going to the dentist due to costs, it is clear that there is a big, underserved market of Canadians in need of dental care.
Standing in the way of a universal dental care plan is the cost. Politicians find it hard to swallow measures that require a large expansion of the budget. Getting politicians behind this idea and giving them the conviction to sell this idea to their constituents, will be important in getting the idea over the line and into reality.
Access to dental care has seldom been more precarious. Universal dental care is a solution that would end the crisis of accessibility. It’s an idea well worth pursuing.