‘When we aren’t serving them, we are failing this population,’ says dentist, who lobbied MPPs for better programs for those facing challenges
Orillia dentist Louise Hill recently lobbied MPPs at Queen’s Park for better dental programs for children, seniors and people suffering financial hardship.
Hill attended Queen’s Park with the Ontario Dental Association’s Political Contact Dentist Network, which advocates for change at local levels to help shape the future of dentistry in the province.
“Unfortunately, during that week (Nov. 2), there were other issues that the provincial government had to attend to,” Hill explained. “We would have liked to have seen a better turnout of provincial members to meet.”
Going into Queen’s Park, Hill sought to increase funding for the five provincial programs that are available to aid those in need of accessing affordable dental care.
“At the present time, the amount of money that is provided for the programs is 37 cents on the dollar,” she explained. “It’s not even meeting our overhead, which is why a lot of dentists don’t want to take part.”
Dentistry programs have been severely underfunded for the past 15 years, Hill says.
“All of care is health care,” she said. “With the marginalized population, we do have a lot of people having difficulty and pain.”
Hill says 70 per cent of people are covered through private dental programs, but the publicly funded programs for youth, seniors, and those with disabilities are falling through the cracks.
“When we aren’t serving them, we are failing this population,” she said.
The Liberals and NDP have presented a new plan for free dental care for those who need it. The program is still in development, and Hill says dentists are being left in the dark.
“There really isn’t a lot of information,” she said. “I know it was a fairly quick handshake between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh to get something on the table.”
The Canadian Dental Association, alongside provincial and territorial associations, is providing information to the government on how to run the new proposed program.
“Right now, they are in the mode of getting information, finding out from the stakeholders what’s important, and trying to look at what is going to be involved,” she said.
While Hill doesn’t have specific numbers on the local need for such a program, she says it’s probably similar to that of most communities in southern Ontario.
“The neediest groups are probably in northern Ontario,” she said. “We still have pockets in southern and eastern Ontario where we have areas of people who don’t earn as much.”
She says the situation is especially dire for seniors. Currently, the dental program run by Public Health Ontario doesn’t allow local dentists to provide treatment for seniors with the ability to be reimbursed.
“Seniors from Orillia, for instance, can’t get their care here with any dentist,” she explained. “They have to arrange through the Public Health (Ontario) to travel down to Barrie. At the moment, we have some public health departments in Ontario where there is a year waiting list for people.”
Some of the patients Hill has served don’t have the means to get to Barrie. They also can’t wait for a year to receive treatment.
“We would like to see the provincial government ask for a little bit of input from the dentists of Ontario in terms of how to deliver this program,” she said.
Without dental care, Hill notes, individuals can lose their speech and eating abilities.
“Being able to get a job or converse with people is of high value,” she said. “We see a big correlation between gum health, heart disease, and diabetes as well. There are many impacts that we do see.”
Ontario Dental Association president Lisa Bentley is set to meet with Health Minister Sylvia Jones again in the near future to try to work something out. Until then, Hill will continue to advocate for more affordable programming.
“I’m not doing this to increase my business,” she said. “I’m really an active volunteer with the (Ontario Dental Association) on several of the committees, and we are really trying to work on getting programs in place for the people who fall through the cracks.”
She says she is looking out for other dentists and people in need.
“I feel comfortable where I am,” she said. “I know that I treat a lot of patients who have had disability and no longer have, but there is a limit, and not a lot of dentists are willing to take those issues on.”