June 6, 2013

Ontario Oral Health Alliance Symposium: Keeping the Momentum to Promote Access to Affordable Dental Care for All

Written by Josie Newman

A symposium of Ontario's public health care professionals who work in oral health came together last week to compare notes on progress made during the last year on getting the message out to the community and to politicians of the high priority of publicly funded oral health care. Ontario's current system has a patchwork quilt approach to public dental funding with its main emphasis on children and those on social assistance or disability support.    

Delegates to the Ontario Oral Health Alliance symposium, held at the Bramalea Community Health Centre, reported that the 2012 postcard campaign which sent hundreds of the public's signatures on postcards to MPPs advocating the extension of provincial programs to include adults who need and can't afford emergency dental treatment was met with agreement by a majority of the 26 MPPs who received the postcards. Other delegates reported success within their communities in terms of receiving greater municipal funding, and with adults and seniors expressing their need for more publicly funded programs. Yet others expressed frustration with what they said was an attempt by some dentists to discourage politicians from giving more funding for public programs.   
Photo Credit: Purva Singh
Symposium attendees Maureen Embleton, Karen Johnston of the Durham
Region Health department, oral health division; Josie Newman, and
Sister Georgette Gregory of Fontbonne Ministries, the Sisters
of St. Joseph of Toronto discuss
oral health issues in Ontario.
 OOHA chairperson Anna Rusak said that the current high cost of hospital emergency room dental-related visits should be curtailed and those costs emphasized to politicians because they are much greater than the costs of funding public dental programs. Preliminary research suggests that too many people in Ontario visit ERs with dental related emergencies. She also suggested public oral health care workers ask physicians to examine their patients' teeth and refer them to dentists if they notice problems.    

Jacquie Maund, of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, advised OOHA to ask the provincial government to combine publicly funded programs so that any family receiving the Ontario Child Benefit become eligible for public dental programs and to expand community programs to include emergency care for adults and seniors who visit community dental clinics.      

Dr. Arlene King, chief medical officer of health for Ontario, told the group that since the report entitled Oral Health: More Than Just Cavities was published in 2012, there has been a great deal of support from key community stakeholders for the recommendations made in the report. The four recommendations include:

  • a review of current policies to ensure all Ontarians have access to optimally fluoridated drinking water
  • a review of how publicly funded oral programs are monitored, evaluated, and how accurately their data is collected
  • explore opportunities for integration of oral health services with the rest of health care services
  • improve access to and awareness of oral health care services available for First Nations peoples        
 Dr. King said concerns expressed to her by various communities include the deficiencies of current oral health programs, opposition to fluoridation in municipal water supplies, lack of public dental services for adults, and the functionality of existing public dental programs. She invited OOHA delegates to send her suggestions for improvements to the system, and advised them that Ontario's Public Health Sector Strategic Plan was recently released which emphasizes the importance of integrating all sectors of the public health care system.  

OOHA delegates concluded the meeting in agreement to draft a letter to Dr. King outlining their concerns. 


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