The regional health integration network spends about $1.7 million per year, and about 10,000 people visit a doctor or hospital Emergency Room every year for dental treatment in the Waterloo-Wellington area, despite the fact those adults haven't gotten any treatment to address the problem, according to a provincial group.
All that doctors can do is prescribe a painkiller.
On top of that, adults who aren't able to maintain their oral health may end up with bigger health issues — poor dental care is connected to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and pneumonia, said Jacquie Maund, with the Association of Ontario Health Centres.
So her group is calling for more dental services for low-income adults.
'Often they're just given a painkiller and sent home and many people repeat that visit because they cannot afford to get care.' - Jacquie Maund, Association of Ontario Health Centres
The Ontario government has said it would fund dentist visits for low-income adults by 2025. But, that's not soon enough, said Maund.
She notes records from the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), show 2,718 people visit a hospital's emergency room for dental problems each year. As well, 8,815 people per year go to see their doctor for help.
"Unfortunately, they can get no treatment because it's not covered by OHIP so often they're just given a painkiller and sent home and many people repeat that visit because they cannot afford to get care," Maund, the policy and government relations lead for the association, said in an interview with CBC News.
"This is not a good use of our health system dollars. We're calling on the health minister to redirect those funds and to invest in public dental programs."
70 per cent couldn't afford a trip to the dentist
In a 2014 survey of 356 low-income Guelph residents, 70 per cent of them said they could not go to the dentist because it was too expensive.
"The most common impact that that was having on them was pain, dental pain, missing or loose or decayed teeth and abscesses. That, of course, was affecting their overall health and if you were having that kind of pain and suffering in any other part of your body, that would be covered by our healthcare system," Maund said of the study.
Children under the age of 17 are now covered under the Healthy Smiles Ontario dental program, which was launched in January.
While some local dentist offices offer free days for cleanings, Maund said that is not the answer.
"That's relying on charity and volunteers for dental care. So just think, if you broke your arm, would you want to ... rely on the charity of a doctor, someone that's offering a volunteer clinic once a month, to fix your arm? We wouldn't accept that," she said.
Poor oral health, Maund added, can lead to other major health problems such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, pneumonia and cardiovascular disease.
"By not taking care of our teeth, we're actually putting ourselves at risk for other health issues which will in turn cost us in terms of our health and also cost the healthcare system," she said.
"People can't wait another nine years if they're in dental pain. We need the Ontario government to move faster."