Toronto

Ontario to spend $90M yearly on free dental care for low-income seniors

The Doug Ford government says it will spend $90 million annually to provide free routine dental care to low-income seniors in Ontario.

Program promised in spring budget aims to reduce emergency room visits

Ontario government officials announced that the province will spend $90 million annually to provide regular dental care to low-income seniors. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

The Doug Ford government says it will spend $90 million annually to provide free routine dental care to low-income seniors in Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, launched the new Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program in Toronto at the Rexdale Community Health Centre on Wednesday.

The provincial government estimates that about 100,000 seniors will benefit from the program when it is fully implemented. The free dental care was promised in the spring budget.

Hospital 'not always' best place for care

Elliott said the program aims to reduce emergency room visits by seniors suffering from dental problems and it is a part of a comprehensive provincial plan to end "hallway health care."

That plan includes prevention and health promotion, she said.

"While in many ways the backbone of our health-care system, the hospital is not always the best place for a person to receive care," Elliott told reporters on Wednesday. "I say that especially at a time when many of our hospitals are operating at over 100 per cent capacity."

Elliott said seniors on a fixed income can find it difficult to obtain the dental care they need.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says free dental care for low-income seniors is an attempt by the province to reduce visits to hospital emergency rooms. (CBC)

According to the province, dental problems such as gum disease, infections and chronic pain lead to more than 60,000 emergency department visits a year and a large portion of those visits are by seniors.

The program will only operate through public health units, community health centres and similar centres, rather than be offered through private dental clinics.

It will also focus on covering "routine" dental work.

The government launched a new web portal, ontario.ca/seniorsdental, that those who qualify can use to apply to the program.

Untreated dental issues can lead to disease, minister says

According to Cho, low-income seniors cannot afford regular dental care because they face financial challenges and a lack of routine dental care affects their well-being.

Raymond Cho, minister for seniors and accessibility, says two-thirds of low-income seniors in Ontario don't have dental insurance. (CBC)

Seniors are the fastest growing age group in Ontario. The government estimates that Ontario will have close to three million seniors by 2023.

Two-thirds of low-income seniors in Ontario do not have access to dental insurance, Cho said.

"As a result, untreated oral health issues among all Ontarians can lead to chronic disease and overall lower quality of life," Cho said.

Ontario residents aged 65 and over with an income of $19,300 or less, or couples with a combined annual income of $32,300 or less and who do not have dental benefits, will qualify for the program.

Eligible seniors can apply to the program online starting on Wednesday. Application forms are available through public health units.

Following the news conference, former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown claimed credit for the idea of offering free dental care for seniors. Brown, ousted in January 2018, is now the mayor of Brampton. 

"This will save health care dollars in the long run," Brown said in a tweet.

With files from Mike Crawley

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