Province needs to do more to fill dental care funding gap, Ottawa dentist says

An Ottawa dentist says more needs to be done to help Ontarians access necessary dental care.

32 per cent of Canadians lack dental insurance

Dr. Mark McCullough and his colleagues provided free cleanings, fillings and even some root canals, to 83 people for free in one day in Vanier. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

An Ottawa dentist says more needs to be done to help Ontarians access necessary dental care.

Around 32 per cent of Canadians don't have dental insurance, according to numbers from 2017, and approximately one in six Canadians aren't able to access regular dental care.

"Dentistry's gotten quite expensive," said Dr. Mark McCullough, co-founder and chief dentist of MCA Dental Group which operates Connexion Dental Care Group in Vanier.

"We see that there's a lot of people that just can't afford to get in and they're in need."

Free dental clinic

On Saturday, McCullough and more than two dozen of his colleagues provided everything from cleanings and fillings to root canals and restorations to 83 people as part of an annual free day of dentistry.

Most of the equipment they used was donated by dental suppliers and the local community.

'It means a lot to me. I couldn't afford it before so it's great that I'm getting it done... It's going to be really nice to have a nice looking smile again."- Zackary Provost, 26, who had a front tooth repaired

McCullough said provincially funded programs lack enough money to cover both patients who need dental treatment and the expenses of dentists who offer those services.

"Currently, the fees paid to dentists to see social-service-type of dentistry is under the amount that it costs us to actually do the services," he said.

"So, every person we see, we actually lose money on. So that makes it so most dentists can't even afford to see them, which then creates even more of a problem."

Patients grateful

Zackary Provost, 26, was walking by the office when he decided to get his front tooth fixed.

It's been chipped since he was 11.

"It's in the front, so it shows right away. It's embarrassing. It doesn't look good," Provost said.

Provost said he used to get his tooth fixed every couple of years when he was covered under family plans.

Now, he said, he works as a roofer and doesn't have private dental insurance — so it would have cost $300 to have the tooth fixed.

Zackary Provost had his front tooth fixed at the free dental care day in Vanier. The 26-year-old had chipped the tooth when he was 11 but the fixes kept breaking and he no longer has a dental plan to cover the $300 cost. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

"It means a lot to me. I couldn't afford it before so it's great that I'm getting it done," he said. It's going to be really nice to have a nice looking smile again."

Howard Thompson, meanwhile, knew he was in dire need of a cleaning. The 58-year-old was visiting Ottawa from Montreal this weekend and decided to get his first cleaning in four years.

Thompson said he felt the cleaning would be the push he needed to take better care of his mouth.

"It's kind of a step toward having healthier teeth anyway," he said. "[It's] a first start that I want to take so I could have healthier teeth."

Zackary Provost had one of his front teeth fixed for free in a procedure that would normally cost around $300. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Funding gaps

The Ontario Dental Association has been pointing out a funding shortfall with government-run dental programs, including the Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) program, and the fact there are hundreds of thousands of children who don't receive regular treatment even though they're covered.

McCullough is hopeful the new Progressive Conservative government will develop a plan to provide better access to dental care.

"Most of the dentists aren't asking for anything more than to cover the costs of treating [patients]. They don't need to make money off of these people. They just want to make sure that the cost is covered," he said.

Many indicators of disease, McCullough added, can be spotted when people are in the dental chair.

"Health starts in the mouth," he said. "In order to maintain a healthy population, you need to have a healthy oral environment."