Dental health forum explains link between income and oral health

By Sarah Ferguson, Fort Erie Times

Dr. Carlos Quinonez, associate professor and director of the Dental Health Specialty Training program at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Carlos Quinonez, associate professor and director of the Dental Health Specialty Training program at the University of Toronto.

It's not a secret there is a connection between an individual's dental health and his or her overall health.

According to Dr. Carlos Quinonez, associate professor and director of the Dental Health Specialty Training program at the University of Toronto, there is a direct link between a person's income and his or her oral health.

Quinonez spoke about the ways to reduce the oral health care gap between the rich and the poor during a dental health forum hosted by Bridges Community Health Centre Wednesday morning at the Clarion Hotel in Fort Erie.

There is a growing gap between families and individuals with low incomes when compared to a person or a family with a large income, Quinonez told about 30 people who attended the forum.

"Access to dental care has a lot to do with income."

"Your income level, your employment conditions, food security, housing, early childhood development and access to oral health care affect your dental health," Quinonez said.

Sometimes individuals have to choose "between paying for food, or for rent, or buying your child a new toy," Quinonez explained.

Other times, people may not be able to afford to take the time away from work to seek out dental health care.

Some dentists won't accept patients receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Benefits because these individuals can't afford to pay out of pocket for health care.

Dental care may not be at the top of the list for low and middle income families because it isn't affordable.

Insurance coverage is increasingly becoming a barrier to accessing oral health care.

"Benefits plans have changed significantly since the 1990s," Quinonez said. "They once covered 100%, and went down to 80%, to 70% and now many only cover about 50% of the cost."

There are a growing number of seniors who require oral health care but can't access it.

"The older a person gets, there are more reports of not being able to afford oral health care because they live fixed incomes, and many are no longer covered through work because they are retired."

In 2004, about 40% of middle income individuals and families couldn't afford dental health care.

"If you can't get dental care, you end up in the emergency room. You are given a script for pain, or antibiotics and people keep coming back."

The number of visits to the hospital each year is increasing. Pain and antibiotic subscriptions only mask serious oral health issues, Quinonez said.

The majority of patients seeking oral treatment at emergency rooms is a "majority of adults."

Quinonez suggested the Canadian government use European models of health care as an example of what Canadians should receive in terms of oral health care.

"In Germany, if you're an employer you have to provide dental coverage for employees because it is law."

Quinonez recommends individuals, and organizations concerned about oral health to lobby the government to invest in both a robust public and private oral health care.

In 2000, Canadians spent $8.8 billion on public oral health care, and that number was significantly higher in 210 at $13.6 billion.

Canada spends less than the U.S. does on public dental care.

"We ranked last amongst all western industrial nations."

"If you rank Ontario, we are last."

It isn't enough to educate people about proper oral health. According to Quinonez, politicians need to assist in finding funding for public health care so more people can access it.

"We want to educate people about brushing their teeth, but it won't change their behaviours. That will only reduce the gap by 11%," he said. "We need to provide better access to health care and that will reduce the gap by 60%, and we can reduce the gap by another 30% by improving quality of lives."


The Community Health Dental Report

Bridges Community Health Centre, an organization of health care providers that offer primary care, health promotion and community development services to Fort Erie, Port Colborne and Wainfleet conducted a survey of its clients in February 2014 about oral health.

• 564 dental health surveys were submitted

• Only 47% of respondents had seen a dentist in a year.

• About 15% said they hadn't seen a dentist in seven years or longer.

• 38% said they had no dental health benefits.

• Fewer than 20% of 89 seniors has seen a dentist in the last year.

• Almost 50% indicated they experienced mouth pain while eating.

• Close to 40% said their mouth health affects their self esteem.  

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