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Cost keeps many from dentist’s chair

Dental instruments
Dental instruments - Contributed

bout one in 10 Nova Scotians don’t get needed dental work because they don’t have the money.

This statistic, found in a recent Canadian Institute for Health Information report, doesn’t surprise the president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association.

“It’s concerning to us as a profession,” said Erin Hennessy, a dentist in Wolfville, in an interview Friday.

“Obviously we care about the oral health of our population. Good oral health is intricatelyrelated to good overall health.”

Hennessy said other barriers such as having to take time off work, child care and transportation also keep people out of the chair.

But cost is a big factor. Canadians spend more than $12 billion each year on dental care.

On the other hand, six million people reportedavoiding visiting a dentist in 2016 because of the cost. Not surprisingly, the lowestincome families report this as being a problem far more often than the highest-income

families, according to a Canadian Academy of Health Sciences report last March.

Unlike general health care, public coverage of dental care is limited in Canada. Governmentsspent about $846 million on oral health in 2015, only 6.2 per cent of total health spending.

In Nova Scotia, those on social assistance can get help with emergency dental care, Hennessy noted. And the province sets aside $6.2 million annually for its Children’s Oral Health Program, which provides coverage up until age 17. Besides necessary extractions and other emergency work, the children’s program covers two routine X-rays, one preventative service — for example, brushing and flossing instruction, and/or cleaning — per year.

Hennessy welcomes any assistance for oral health but said the provincial program needs some work.

“It’s fairly focused on emergency care and getting people out of pain and out of danger of infection. But the concern is with, really with any dental care, (the) way it operates outside of the medical system. They are very focused on reactive care rather than preventative care.”

As for help from the dental sector itself,

the Dalhousie Dentistry School offers dental clinics for the public at reduced rates, and provides outreach work in community health clinics at local elementary schools and the North End Community Health Centre.

Hennessy singled out a community clinic operated by the Fundy Dental Centre in Coldbrook, Kings County. Local dentists provide basic dental services at a significantly reduced cost to eligible patients.

The consequences of bad teeth and gums go beyond the pain and cosmetic issues that come with those problems. Periodontal disease, which affects the gums, has been linked to cardiac health and low birth weight, Hennessy said.

“Then there are the things we see on a day-to-day basis. Infections in the oral cavity are very, very dangerous because they are so close to the spaces that travel very quickly to the brain and to other parts of the body. So with (untreated) low-grade, chronic infections . . . at some point, the immune system gives up and you can see an infection go from low grade to a high, high dangerous situation very quickly.”

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