By Jacquie Maund, AOHC Policy Lead

In response to recommendations from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and advocacy work by AOHC, the Ontario Oral Health Alliance and others, the MOHLTC is moving to streamline and expand access to public dental programs for low income children.

This is an important step forward - expanded public investment to prevent and treat oral health diseases for children and youth will lead to improved health outcomes and cost savings for Ontario’s healthcare system.

Since Healthy Smiles was first introduced, AOHC and others have voiced serious concern about the low income eligibility criteria. It was set so low that staff at CHCs offering oral health services had to turn away many low income children in need of treatment.

Starting in April 2014 the province will raise the income eligibility criteria so that families with one child and adjusted net income of less than $21,513 are eligible, with eligibility increasing by approximately $1,500 for each additional child. This change means that approximately 70,000 more children should now be eligible for this program.

In addition, starting in August 2015, the current patchwork of programs for low income children will be integrated into one public oral health program with a simplified and streamlined application process and access to a full range of dental services. Altogether three programs will be integrated: Children In Need Of Treatment (CINOT) and the social assistance dental programs for children, along with Healthy Smiles Ontario.

AOHC and partners in the Ontario Oral Health Alliance will continue to monitor the roll-out. We will apply a special focus to make sure Healthy Smiles Ontario delivery partners do a better job conductin outreach to vulnerable families. This will ensure the program meets its targets. And we will point to some very important lessons learned from our member centres in how to connect oral health services with those most in need. In particular, Hamilton Urban Core and Langs CHCs can share their successes using outreach workers who speak different languages.

Looking ahead to an expected spring election AOHC is calling on all parties at Queens Park to commit to extend public dental programs to low income adults and seniors.  

Statistics show that one in every five people in Ontario do not visit a dentist because they cannot afford it, and in 2012 there were almost 58,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms for dental reasons. This costly use of ER amounts to at least $30 million a year – funds that would be better spent on preventative programs in the community.

Every day health providers in our 108 member centres witness the urgent need for affordable, accessible oral health care by people struggling to make ends meet. They are keen to be part of a province-wide solution delivering public dental services to low income adults as well as children.

Related links:AOHC & OOHA expose inappropriate use of hospital ER for dental issues (October 30, 2013)CHC and AHAC Oral Health Data Collection Report (October 29, 2013)AOHC's work on oral health featured in Toronto Star editorial (April 1, 2013)

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