B.C. aims to cut dental surgery wait times for patients with disabilities
Autism advocate says it's a welcome move but more needs to be done to improve preventative care
The B.C. government's commitment to increasing the number of dental surgeries performed each year is a good start but doesn't fully address the needs of people with disabilities, according to an autism advocate.
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Monday there will be 900 more dental procedures performed under general anesthetic in the coming year, a 15-per-cent increase over the last year.
The move is meant to help patients with developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions get access to dental treatment more quickly.
"You can imagine, for example, waiting months to see a dentist for a painful tooth because the ... safest and most appropriate thing for you or your son or your daughter is to have a dental procedure or surgery under general anesthetic," Dix said.
With the new additions, the total number of dental surgeries for 2018-2019 will be 7,100, up from 6,200 in 2017-2018. This year, 15 per cent of patients waited more than 26 weeks for dental surgery, according to the province.
Patients endure 'long-term agony'
Deborah Pugh, the executive director of ACT-Autism Training Community, said the additional surgeries are "wonderful news," but there's still much more to be done.
"Seventy-one hundred in total each year is not going to meet the needs, even now, of people waiting for dental surgery, and often they're waiting in great pain and they can't express that pain," Pugh told CBC News.
Many people with severe autism or developmental disabilities require general anesthetic for routine dental procedures, like taking X-rays, filling cavities or cleaning teeth.
And when those patients also have difficulties with communication, that means serious dental problems can be overlooked for years.
"If you can imagine being unable to speak clearly and tell people why you have pain and enduring long-term agony from infected wisdom teeth or cavities or whatever, it is a very serious concern," Pugh said.
It's not uncommon to discover that some behavioural problems displayed by children with autism are actually linked to dental infections, she said.
She added that she'd like to see more of a focus on preventative care for people with autism and other conditions.