Meeting the Need for Family Dental Health Care
by Pam Dillon
Let me tell you about a dad I know. He recently retired from a job with the government and he has three kids. One is studying to be a doctor, the second is in another post-secondary program and the youngest, still in regular school, plays a sport at the elite level. Both dad and mom hope he’ll get a scholarship to university. After all, post secondary education “ain’t” cheap.
In this family, mom is a teacher.
Dad? His mouth is a mess. Severe tooth decay and associated problems have caused him a great deal of pain, discomfort and embarrassment over the years. Last time I saw him, his upper teeth had finally been pulled and replaced with a dental plate. His lower teeth were still in need of pulling. And despite what might seem to be generous dental benefits, he was nonetheless quite worried about the cost of all this.
People right here in Ottawa—even people with jobs and economic advantages—routinely do without dental care because it can cost a lot of money. The truth, though, is that dental care is essential health care. What goes on in your mouth affects the rest of your body. Gum disease, tooth decay, a misaligned jaw, TMJ, oral infections and oral cancer impact quality of life and overall wellness. Not only can headaches, earaches and neck aches be sometimes tied to the set-up in your mouth, so can additional ailments. “Research has shown there is an association between oral disease and other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, respiratory illness in older adults, as well as pre-term and low-birth-weight babies,” notes the Canadian Dental Association at www.cda-adc.ca.
A whole host of factors, over a lifetime, can contribute to oral health status. They include:
- access to early dental care,
- learned oral hygiene practices,
- lifestyle habits,
- medical conditions,
- congenital anomalies,
- and financial circumstances.
After all, people do not have equal access to oral health care. Even though it’s key to good health, as all too many parents know, it’s not publicly funded and not all employers offer dental plans. If people get laid off, function as small business owners or work on a contract basis, they pay out of pocket for the family’s dental exams and procedures. Care—from preventative examinations and sealants to extractions, repairs and surgeries—comes with a price tag.
And while there are programs for low-income families, including Healthy Smiles Ontario for kids aged 17 and younger, free dental screening at Ottawa Public Health Dental Clinics and limited emergency dental care for adults, seniors and children in need of treatment (CINOT), access is definitely restricted.
This means some people forgo care. A parent with a toothache, an aching jaw or bleeding gums is more apt to ignore it if the budget is tight and the kids have grown out of their snowsuits.
And that’s why Ottawa’s Smiles on Us Day is such an amazing gift to the community. The local initiative helps provide free dental care to families in need. Founded by Chapman Mills Dental, the event brings together dentists, oral surgeons, hygienists, health-care professionals and other volunteers to offer services. A filling, an extraction (including a wisdom tooth) or cleaning can be provided.
This year, Smiles On Us Day is Saturday, December 21, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Walter Baker Sports Centre in Barrhaven. People will be served on a first-come, first-served basis and will fill out a medical questionnaire, sign a waiver and meet with an on-site medical professional. No health card, proof of income, or ID are required. Once the process is complete, participants will find out which Smiles on Us dental location will provide treatment. If needed, transportation is available to the participating dental offices. See www.smilesonus.info for details and, if you’re in need, take advantage of the opportunity for your family.