Healthy and Slim

Perfect Body

National dental plan must address major access and equity issues, disability advocates say

In the three years since Joanne Shimakawa last had a dental checkup, her multiple sclerosis had progressed to the point where she’d become increasingly prone to falling and no longer felt safe transferring to a dentist’s chair.

So she recently began searching for someone in her Toronto neighbourhood who could treat her in her wheelchair.

“I basically took every dentist in the west end and called them one after another,” Shimakawa told CBC News. “I couldn’t find anybody.”

In the end, there was just one dentist whose office didn’t have stairs or other obstacles and who said treatment in the wheelchair wouldn’t be a problem.

“When something like that happens … it’s depressing,” Shimakawa said.

As Canada prepares this year to unveil a national dental plan that will include oral health care for people with disabilities — as well as low-income earners, seniors and children — advocates are pleading with the government to pay attention to the stories of people like Shimakawa.

Not only does the high cost of dental care and limited coverage through provincial benefits make regular treatment unattainable for a disproportionate number of disabled people, but many of these patients say they also struggle to find dentists who are willing and able to care for them.

‘Gaps’ in access to oral health care

This spring, the Canadian Society for Disability and Oral Health (CSDH) made a submission to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos that urges him to “ignore the myth that Canada’s current dental system serves most Canadians well.”

It points out several issues, including a lack of mandatory disability-specific training for dental professionals; physical accessibility barriers in clinics; fee structures for dentists that don’t take into account the extra time necessary to treat someone with complex needs; and long wait lists for people who require general anesthesia

Read the rest