OP ED: Your Teeth Are Not A Part of Your Body, Say What?

OP ED: Your Teeth Are Not A Part of Your Body, Say What?
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About the Author

Gary J. Machan

Gary J. Machan

Gary Machan serves on the Community Advisory Research Committee for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Through the course of his career he has received several provincial awards including the 2nd Stage of Medicare, Ontario Tobacco Network Innovation Award for Excellence, and Food Champion Award. In addition, Mr. Machan is an associate with the Centre for Inner Freedom where his work was featured by Tom Harpur in his best selling book ‘Finding the Still Point’.

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For reasons that mystify me to this day, the provision of even basic dental care was not – and more importantly is still not included in Medicare. Not even for severely acute cases for which people require repeated hospitalization. All that emergency physicians are allowed to do is issue prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications.

True, dental associations were as vitriolic as ever, coming up with such cockamamie excuses that the government should not interfere in the ‘intimate’ relationship between dental practitioner and patient. Say what? Not sure about you but ‘intimate’ isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind when my dentist is drilling for China on my back molar or making me gag on a high powered suction hose.

And oh yes, how about this one: “the offering of public dental care would result in the moral disintegration of society”? How do you like them apples? Truly, it is hard to know what is worse, the reasons provided by the dental associations, or the fact that anyone listened to them! Anyone who touts that denying treatment for such painful maladies as abscessed teeth isn’t exactly next in line for the spiritual big leagues.

Granted, that was then and this is now. Even so, precious little has changed. According to the College of Ontario Dental Hygienists, 2 – 3 million people do not see a dentist in Ontario each year because they cannot afford to. And you should care, because this, in turn, results in the costly and inappropriate use of other health care services.

Consider that in 2015 there were almost 61,000 visits to hospital Emergency room for oral health problems, and in 2014 there were almost 222,000 visits to physician offices for dental complaints.

Consider that in 2015 there were almost 61,000 visits to hospital Emergency room for oral health problems, and in 2014 there were almost 222,000 visits to physician offices for dental complaints. Just to put this into perspective, there were more visits to Emergency rooms for oral health problems than diabetes. And none of this even takes into account the complications that arise due to the well documented link between dental disease and other chronic illnesses.

Facts and figures aside, there is a human dimension to this issue. I can distinctly recall an incident during one of my first weeks on the job as a community worker when a little old lady came up to me with one of her teeth wrapped up in a Kleenex. She asked me if I knew any dentists who would take the gold out of the filling to help relieve some pain. I mean you expect something like this in a third world country. But Canada!

And more recently, I was at a Christmas party for Health Link patients when I noticed the lady sitting beside me wasn’t eating. She had a sandwich on a plate, but didn’t touch it. Eventually, she leaned over and asked me if I could get her a fork and knife so she could cut up the sandwich into tiny little morsels. Even then she was unable to eat it because her dentures fit so poorly.

I should point out both of these women were war time widows living on extremely limited incomes. Forced to subsist on largely soft canned foods because they were unable to eat chew their food. Meanwhile our health care system thinks nothing of treating the manifestations of malnutrition and the extreme social isolation brought on by the shame of not having proper dentures. As if, getting old isn’t insult enough?

Bottom line, it is nothing less than a travesty that so many people in Ontario have to endure the pain and humiliation of untreated dental disease and decay. It says here that increasing access to basic dental care should be an integral part of any effort to transform our health care system.

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Readers Comments (2)

  1. Ruth-Ann Courage says:

    I woke up one day and couldn’t open my mouth. After a visit to the doctor, I was referred to a specialist who told me my jaw joint (TMJ) had become dislocated. Two years later and several thousand dollars later, it was fixed but somehow, this is not covered by OHIP!! I will never understand this considering some of the other things that are covered by OHIP.

  2. Holly Lucy says:

    I had terrible pain in my teeth and jaw and I didn’t know what was wrong. I was also getting terrible headaches. The dentist told me I was grinding and clenching my teeth at night while sleeping. So I had a night-guard made which was covered by my husband’s dental benefits. I can’t imagine what other people do in the same situation.Th pain was so bad that I could not think or do anything. It’s no wonder that people are seeking out pain medication and then ending up with a dependence on pain meds.

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