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The Impact of Implementation of Healthy Smiles Ontario Dental Program

This deputation was given to Toronto’s Board of Health by CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire, and sounds the alarm over the Province’s plans to remove prevention services from the Ontario Public Health Standards and the consolidation of dental programs.

 

 

Dear Councillor Mihevc and Members of the Board of Health:

CUPE Local 79 members in Toronto Public Health know from everyday experience just how important dental care is to children, families, seniors, aboriginals, newcomers and our vulnerable populations in shelters and long-term care.

We applaud the Medical Officer of Health for recommending that all dental clinics and the mobile dental coach be supported and maintained.

The Report before the Board today cites the recent announcement by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care “that it will be removing dental prevention services from the Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS)”. This announcement is particularly shocking given the findings of a new study out of St. Michael’s Hospital published on May 5, 2014 that exposed the awful statistics on the state of children’s teeth, especially in Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.

The Toronto Star article (May 5, 2014) noted that “Toronto Public Health dental health screenings find 44 per cent of schools designated ‘high risk’ based on the rotting condition of children’s teeth”.

“Toronto Public Health hygienists looked inside the mouths of nearly 220,000 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8 last year as part of an annual free dental health screening program in schools.”

“Photographs of students’ mouths taken during dental screenings portray a startling picture of a public health problem in Toronto that has flown under the radar for years. Broken teeth. Bubbling abscesses. Dark pools of leathery decay.”

“Left unchecked, dental abscesses can do terrible damage, travelling through the facial cavities to the eyes or down to the heart. In the worst-case scenarios, an infected tooth can cause blindness and heart disease.”

Local 79 urges the Medical Officer of Health to press the Province to keep dental prevention services in the Ontario Public Health Standard.

The state of children’s oral health is another troubling indicator of the growing income disparity in communities across the City.

It’s been over ten years since the United Way of Greater Toronto and The Canadian Council on Social Development released its groundbreaking report, Poverty by Postal Code – The Geography of Neighbourhood Poverty • 1981 – 2001. Since then, income inequality has led to further decline in some of Toronto’s poorest communities. In 2012, The Toronto Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report “found that Toronto is the least equitable city in Canada, and projects that by 2025 almost 60% of Toronto neighbourhoods will be low income”. These announced changes are quite simply moving us backwards.

People living in poverty will, by necessity, make other choices – like paying rent and putting food on the table – rather than spending scant resources on dental care. That’s why it is so important for these dental programs to stay in place.

We would urge the Medical Officer of Health to consult broadly on the impact on Ontario’s communities of the planned consolidation of provincial dental program for children, and the impact of removing dental prevention services from the OPHS. The vulnerable will be hardest hit by these decisions – children, seniors, aboriginals, and newcomers. Local 79 is concerned that access to services for dental health will be diminished by contracting-out central administration and providing access to oral health programs online, rather than through outreach.

Local 79 would urge the City of Toronto to work with our communities, key stakeholders and other municipalities to push the province to reverse its decision to remove dental prevention services from OPHS. We must work together to pressure the Province to make dental health a priority for all municipalities.

As noted in the Report “municipally funded TPH dental clinics continue to experience long wait lists, specifically for seniors”. We would ask that the Medical Officer of Health continue to press for improved dental services. There is an urgent and growing need.

Yours truly,

 

Tim Maguire
President

 

 

 

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