Friday, December 7, 2007

Help needed to bring dental care to working poor

This is excerpted from Shagya Blog. Canada has no universal dental care plan. In fact in comparison with many other countries our universal medicare is much less inclusive. Norway, UK, Sweden, Denmark and most European plans are far more extensive. However, those plans are being severely eroded as capital becomes more powerful and social democratic parties adopt the so-called third way and indeed themselves help in dismantling social programs- at the same time suggesting they are saving them from financial ruin!
Dental plans have not usually been universal for some reason but many countries do make dental care free for children and teenagers. Here are some references for the UK, Denmark. and Finland.
Even for adults there is usually some form of subsidisation or insurance with co-pays and no payments for the poorest.

Help needed to bring dental care to working poor

Scott Cuffley never thought a toothache might kill him. But, because he couldn't afford to go to a dentist to have it treated, it almost did. And many other Canadians are at risk of the same thing. Two years ago, a cavity started bothering Cuffley. But, self-employed, the Calgary man had no dental benefits or insurance and couldn't afford to go to the dentist. "I left it alone because it would cost $200 to $500 to fix it," he explains. "I couldn't afford it. I wasn't making a lot and it basically went for food and gas." The situation became life-threatening when the tooth became abscessed. The infection spread to his brain, where doctors had to remove part of his skull to remove all the pus. "I almost died. I can't imagine what I put my family through," he says, choking back tears. Cuffley is not alone. In Ontario, earlier this year, a man went blind because he couldn't afford to treat his abscessed tooth. And Cuffley says the doctors who treated him in hospital told him of a recent case of a 17-year-old boy who died after his tooth abscessed and the infection ended up in his heart. Dr. James Leake, the head of the community dentistry program at the University of Toronto, says more and more, he hears about people who can't afford private dental care. They put off getting care and ultimately end up at the only place that will treat them for free: their hospital emergency department. Those on welfare usually have government-funded dental services, as do those whose employers offer dental plans. But for those with low incomes, the so-called "working poor" who earn just enough to cover food and rent, visits to the dentist are a luxury. Leake says dental care is an essential health service because dental problems can have long-term consequences. "The kids don't thrive in terms of growth and development, they can't learn, they can't eat all the firm nutritious foods we recommend to them. And adults spend time away, lose time from work," he says. Leake says there needs to be a mechanism to get dental care to those who need it, whether it's through community health centres, public health units or at seniors residences. "We need to work on some models to reach out to people who can't access dental care for their own health benefit," says Leake. A fortunate few Canadians find their way to the low-cost or volunteer dental clinics that exist in many cities, like the Urban Health Outreach clinic in Scarborough. There, dentists such as Matthew Orzech volunteers twice a month to treat poor families, at no charge. But Leake wonders why the system is so unfair to the working poor. "We don't have a national dental care program. But by making employers' contributions to dental insurance tax-free, we, in fact, are subsidizing the insured folks. So, I here at the University of Toronto get my dental care tax-free and the working poor have to pay after-tax dollars," he notes. "We have a system of subsidizing dental care, but it favours the rich and the employed, rather than the poor and the elderly who need it." One solution to the problem would be more volunteer clinics, if more dentists volunteered. But the demand far outstrips the number of dentists and staff willing to volunteer. And many dentists resent the situation. "Physicians and people who practice in the hospital settings get paid for their care; so why should people providing oral health care services have to volunteer to help the poor and the working poor?" he wonders. Ontario plans to introduce a program to help this group. In the recent throne speech, the governing Liberals pledged a $45-million dental care plan, but didn't provide details. Leake believes there should be a consistent program across the country. He says many health commissions have recommended over the years that dental care be a health service like any other, covered under our medicare program. But the proposal has never been accepted. "It seems to me that it is quite inequitable that a child with infected tonsils can get all the care he or she needs, but move the infection forward, near the teeth, and for poor families without insurance there is just no care available," says Leake.Scott, meanwhile, had learned first-hand the value of good oral health. He has now found a way get dental care, through a dentist who has agreed to give him a break on the fees. And he encourage others in his situation to do the same."I don't want this to happen to anyone," he says.

1 comment:

Werner said...

Thanks Ken for giving me a mention.