Windsor

Dental insurance key factor in accessing oral health care, WECHU survey shows

Adults without dental insurance are twice as likely to experience a dental concern as their insured counterparts, according to a new study from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

Nearly 1 in 4 Windsor-Essex residents report having no dental insurance coverage

Adults without dental insurance are twice as likely to experience a dental concern as their insured counterparts, according to a new study from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. 

Almost 1,600 residents completed the WECHU's dental health survey. Results show insurance plays a huge role in access to dental care.

"The health and well-being of adults in our community is being affected because they aren't able to access the dental service they need to stay healthy," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, acting medical officer of health for the WECHU. 

"Good dental health is critical to good overall health."

Low-income dental patients can suffer long-term pain because they can't afford oral care treatment. (CBC)

According to the WECHU's oral health manager, Kim Casier, the lack of having dental insurance is a "key factor" and a "significant barrier."

"They're not going to the dental office, and if they do have oral health problems some of these people are dealing with the issues on their own," said Casier. Survey responses indicated people would pull teeth on their own, use home remedies or turn to emergency rooms and hospitals for painkillers.

"We're not really dealing with the problem," said Casier, adding that some people just live with "dull, chronic pain" instead of seeking treatment.

WECHU wants fluoride added to Windsor's water

Casier says anecdotally, dental professionals say they see an increase in people with cavities — young and old — and that the WECHU receives more emails than ever with people looking to access care. 

"Now it seems to be a very common thing, a common occurrence," said Casier, adding that their reports from school services showed that there's been at least a 2 per cent decrease in cavity-free children in the last five years.

A 2016 WECHU report showed that for every $1 spent on fluoride in the water, $38 less is spent on treatment of oral health problems. Casier says now that number is more like $1 for every $78.

"It's very costly to provide treatment programs. If we can implement programs and services to prevent decay that is a good idea," said Casier, who also lists brushing education and fluoride varnish programs as other preventative options. 

"Fluoride in some form is the best tool that we have."

A 2016 needs assessment by the WECHU identified the demand for oral health resources. 

Nearly 1 in 4 Windsor-Essex residents report having no dental insurance coverage, according to the WECHU's oral health report for 2018. More than 900 emergency room visits each year in Windsor-Essex are for oral health problems. 

Only one per cent of dental services are publicly funded in Ontario. 

Dental care can be paid for out of pocket, through Ontario Works or Healthy Smiles Ontario programs, private insurance or employer insurance benefits.

In Windsor, more affordable dental services may be able to be accessed through the Downtown Mission or the Essex County Dental Society. St. Clair College's dental hygienist program also sometimes offers low-cost cleaning services.