Making seniors smile at home

I’m lucky. I have a full-time job with benefits. I can go to the dentist every year to have my teeth cleaned and my mouth examined to make sure there’s no issues.

I haven’t always been this fortunate. There have been times I’ve worked but not had benefits. There was one stretch where I didn’t see a dentist for four years.

Across the County, that’s the reality for many low-income earners, especially seniors. Many have not been to a dentist in years, or have taken their dental problems to emergency departments.

In fact, in 2015 (the most recent stats), there were almost 61,000 hospital emergency visits for dental problems – at a cost to Ontario’s health care system of approximately $31 million.

According to provincial government research, two-thirds of low-income seniors do not have access to dental insurance.

In Haliburton County, the situation hasn’t been as alarming thanks to Volunteer Dental Outreach (VDO).

It was founded in 2010 to provide free, urgent dental care for low-income residents of Haliburton County.

However, it hasn’t reached every lowincome resident or senior. And, the services now available under the Ontario program include preventative care and treatment, such as fillings and extractions.

That’s why we welcome the Nov. 20 launch of The Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP).

Under it, Ontarians aged 65 and over, with an income of $19,300 or less, or couples with a combined annual income of $32,300 or less, and who do not have dental benefits, can qualify for care.

When it was first discussed in the spring, there was talk of Haliburton County patients having to travel out of the Highlands to receive care, with Port Hope, Whitby and Peterborough mentioned.

While we welcomed the government’s initiative at the time – as did the HaliburtonKawartha-Pine Ridge District Health Unit and VDO – they, and we, had to question the feasibility of low-income seniors travelling to those cities.

We knew many did not have their own vehicles. If they did, the cost of gas could be prohibitive. And, there was no public transportation. We knew few would be able to avail themselves of the service.

So, we were ecstatic with last weeks’ further news that the dental services will be accessed through public health units, community health centres and Aboriginal Health Access Centres across the province.

The VDO and the health unit further told The Highlander last week that they are planning to make the program accessible at the VDO, which is on Mountain Street in Haliburton.

It makes sense since the VDO already services the population this program is looking to target – and it would be a much more convenient location for locals.

However, the VDO does expect an influx of new patients when a workable arrangement is approved.

We’ll be anxious to see how that will look. In the meantime, we would urge lowincome seniors to look into whether or not they qualify and get their applications in.

People can apply through Ontario.ca/ SeniorsDental or at health unit offices.

The VDO said they hope people can start accessing the program by the end of the year or early 2020.

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