April 17, 2013

What happened to our government's commitment to Healthy Smiles?

On April 1, 2013, the Toronto Star ran a story about dental care programs for low-income people.  The story, Ontario should stop siphoning money from dental fund for poor: Editorial, brought to light the fact that the government has been simultaneously tightening restrictions to limit access to the fund and bleeding the funds to other programs that are more politically popular.

In 2012, Ontario's chief Medical Officer advised the government and the public that good oral health is key to good, overall health.  Poor dental hygiene has been linked to all sorts of chronic disease such as diabetes, respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease and even osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis (visit page 7 of the report for more details).

Furthermore, in the United States it has been found that  preventing chronic conditions, such as those listed above, could very well save billions of dollars in health care spending annually. Plus, people would not be suffering from chronic illness....which means there is opportunity for increases in productivity and less strain on business.

More than 50 years of experience serving people who live on low incomes across the province has taught MCCO that oral health care is out of reach for too many of Ontario's residents - this is an unacceptable and expensive situation.

Photo courtesy of Ontario ASsociation of Public Health Dentistry
For more information please visit

In Ontario, people living on low-incomes are often working two minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet  - these are jobs that almost never provide additional
benefits such as dental care. Jobs like these pay barely enough to get by, let alone to save the money one needs to provide quality care for a family. This makes it almost impossible for people to access the expensive oral care we all need to maintain good health.

Ontario’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, Breaking the Cycle, was introduced in 2008 and made a commitment to increase access to oral health care for kids whose families live on low-incomes.  The strategy promised $45M a year for dental programs for low income people. 

Since then, the Ontario Government has made a series of decisions that have both limited access to this program and directed any unused funds to other health promotion programs – programs that are worthy in their own right but should not be implemented at the expense of the Healthy Smiles Program or the Children in Need of Treatment program.  We need to make sure the people who are most in need are getting the services they require.

We believe that our province can do a better job of making sure people have access to the oral health care they need in order to be active participants in our society.  A few things the government could do to get started include:

  • increase the eligibility criteria for the oral health programs so that more low income kids can access the oral health care they require to lead a healthy life.

  • make good on its promise and restore funding for dental programs for low income Ontarians to its original allocation of $45M per year.
  • expand dental coverage to adults living on low-incomes as well 
Our experience has taught us that when people have poor oral health and hygiene (ie when they are in dental pain or missing their teeth) it becomes even more difficult to access employment, training or the myriad of social activities one needs to be involved in to live a full life.  

Ontario is a prosperous province.  A key component of safe guarding our shared prosperity is to ensure that all people who live on low incomes have access to the oral health care they need to participate in society, in community and in economic activity.  We can, and must, do better.

for more information or to send a postcard to your MPP visit the Ontario Association of Public Health Dentistry.

You can look up your MPP's address here:

You can find out who your MPP is by entering your postal code here:


  1. Great post on an important topic. Too often dental care is seen as a luxury, but it is a really important part of healthcare. Thanks!

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