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Oral health, an important part of overall health that we sometimes miss

May 03, 2017
April was Oral Health Month, but there’s a pretty good possibility that you may have missed it.

 

 

 

 

 Dr. Lisa Simon

April was Oral Health Month, but there’s a pretty good possibility that you may have missed it. That’s because oral health often gets overlooked as part of our overall health and well-being.

Untreated dental problems can lead to pain, difficulty chewing, and serious infection. These issues extend beyond the mouth; most notably, inflammation can play a role in diseases such as diabetes. Quality of life is affected when children or adults have untreated dental problems. It often results in poor self-esteem, social isolation or stigma, difficulty sleeping, changes to diet and the avoidance of some activities.

In 2015, local hospital emergency rooms managed 4,125 cases of people with dental problems. In 2014, physician offices saw close to 7,700 visits for similar problems. Most often, people were dealing with abscesses and dental pain from cavities. Those people were sent home with prescription pain killers or antibiotics, which are temporary measures but are all that is available there.

This is both expensive and preventable, and the real fix would have required dental treatment. However, people in low income have difficulty affording dental care that can prevent problems from becoming serious.

The health unit’s Board of Health has a strong history of advocacy for improved oral health and access to dental care for residents. As part of their continued efforts, they approved the construction of a dental clinic in the health unit’s Gravenhurst office, which complements the health unit’s Healthy Smiles Ontario mobile dental clinic. Construction began in November 2016 and it is now open. 

Residents of the District of Muskoka and surrounding communities who are on publicly-funded dental care programs can now access preventive, routine or emergency care at the Gravenhurst clinic, depending on the services the clients are covered for. Support programs include: Healthy Smiles Ontario for children and youth age 17 or younger from lower income families, Ontario Works Adult Emergency Dental Program, Ontario Disability Support Program, Non-Insured Health Benefits and Interim Federal Health Program.

Gravenhurst’s fixed clinic will provide more stable care and additional clinic days for clients year-round. Similar resources have been working well at a fixed clinic in Barrie. Our two clinics also improve accessibility for clients with physical limitations and families with small children.

We also provide dental screening for children and youth at schools and health unit offices to determine whether children have dental needs and are eligible for the Healthy Smiles Ontario program.

These programs help many people, but there remains a shortage of support for people who cannot afford dental care in Ontario. Dental care is an essential service and, as our Board of Health has advocated, coverage by the provincial government needs to be expanded to all low income Ontarians. Public coverage for dental care in Canada is lower than in most other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, and that needs to change.

For more information about the new Gravenhurst dental clinic or any of the other clinics and oral health programs, call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or visit www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

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Dr. Simon is an Associate Medical Officer of Health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

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