Survey Finds Many Niagara Residents Can’t Afford Dental Health Care Services

News from the Niagara Dental Health Coalition

Posted April 25th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – A survey recently conducted by the Niagara Dental Health Coalition has found that cost and lack of health insurance are the two biggest barriers facing many adults in Niagara who are seeking dental health care.

The survey received 1,334 responses from Niagara residents aged 18 and over from across all twelve municipalities. 

 “Local health and social service agencies have told us anecdotally that they frequently encounter people across Niagara who face challenges accessing dental care,” says Lori Kleinsmith, Chair of the Niagara Dental Health Coalition. “The survey findings quantify what we have been hearing and allow us to tell a more complete picture of the ways lack of dental care access is impacting the lives of numerous Niagara residents.”

Fifty-seven per cent of survey respondents indicated that they had no access to workplace or publicly funded dental care benefits and could not afford to buy private insurance. 63 per cent reported their household family income at less than $30,000 annually.

Thirty-one per cent of survey respondents reported that they had not visited a dentist in three or more years. When faced with a dental emergency, over one in four respondents turned to their family doctor, a walk-in clinic, or the hospital emergency room, only to receive painkillers or antibiotics and no treatment of the underlying dental problem.

Elevan per cent of respondents reported various ways they treated a dental emergency on their own, including pulling out their own tooth and filing down a broken tooth with a nail file.

The lack of access to dental care clearly affects the health of many survey respondents. 692 people reported regular tooth pain, while 565 had loose or missing teeth and 250 had abscesses over the past year. These health issues impact other areas of life, with hundreds of respondents indicating they faced problems with eating, low self-esteem, and sleeping.

 “Imagine your worst toothache ever. Then imagine you had to contemplate living with that for the rest of your life. My pain at least sometimes comes and goes, but I don’t know how much longer before it gets worse. This situation is inhumane,” said one dental survey respondent.

 “The current provincial government has said that it plans to expand access to dental benefits to adults and seniors on low incomes by 2025,” says Kleinsmith. “However, for those who are suffering daily with tooth pain and eating problems, eight more years without access to dental care is interminable.”

The Niagara Dental Health Coalition calls on the public to continue to let their elected representatives know that expanding access to publicly-funded access dental care for low income adults and seniors is an issue they want addressed now, not in eight years. Niagara employers can also play a role by providing dental benefits to their workers.

Visit the coalition’s website at for more survey results and a link to an e-petition.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders


One response to “Survey Finds Many Niagara Residents Can’t Afford Dental Health Care Services

  1. As a retired dental hygienist I feel qualified to address this issue albeit not in totality as it is multifactorial. Part of the problem are the obscene fees charged for services. Dentistry as a health profession has long since been replaced by dentistry, the uncontested, unchallenged income generator. The cost of the dental equipment, dental materials, staff and office expenses are dwarfed by the revenue generated in the average dental office. It would be entirely reasonable to assume that one dentist with one dental hygienist, each working 4 days per week, would be pulling in minimally $1.5 million dollars per year. Ontario dentists are provided an annual fee guide that are suggestions only. They do not have to charge the going rate but whatever rate they do charge they have to (but often don’t) charge uniformly. They cannot (okay, “should” not) pick and choose who gets a discount. Another contributing problem is a result of compromised professional ethics. It is rare for a patient to seek a second opinion. You tend to believe what you are told. A classic scenario: You are told you have a cavity. You agree to have it filled. Entirely too much of the tooth is drilled away. A year or two later the tooth cracks. You are told the tooth needs root canal therapy. You agree to it assuming you can afford to do so; if you can’t you get it pulled out. (If the resulting space is not filled then the teeth behind it drift and tip forward creating significant gum and periodontal problems…cha ching!! A big “pay me now or pay me later” scenario.) After the root canal treatment is done you are told you need a porcelain crown to maintain the strength and integrity of the tooth (true). You fork out more cash if you can. If you can’t, the tooth eventually crumbles and you need to have it removed. Now you need a tooth replacement. Your options? In ascending order of cost: a small clip on denture (posterior teeth) or a “flipper” (front teeth), a bridge or an implant. See where I am going with this? Without your knowing, a properly placed, conservative filling would have been the end of the story but it seldom is. My favourite dental saying was “dentistry begets more dentistry”. There is a predictable chain of reactions and treatment plans. I hasten to add that there are some ethical dentists out there but the temptation to create a cascade of predictable events is overwhelming. Note also, dental polishing is of no value and is a procedure you can decline. It does nothing more than what your toothbrush can perform. Heavier stains should be removed by your dentist or hygienist with either dental scalers or ultrasonics. If you visit a dental hygienist regularly and she tells you that you have periodontal pockets she has an obligation to reduce them for you or refer you to a specialist (periodontist). If she doesn’t then what exactly is she doing and why are you going back every 3 to 6 months? As for bleach kits, Crest Whitening Strips (approx. $50) cost at least 150% less than kits your dentist sells you (and his/her markup is unconscionable) and work just as well. Note, dental bleaches do not remove extrinsic stains, that is, stains from food, beverages, tobacco, etc., but rather, they whiten the teeth AFTER extrinsic deposits are professionally removed. Another consideration, it was my experience that electric brushes, particularly the oscillating types, so often caused gum recession and enamel erosion so severe that they should have been pulled off the market completely. Why weren’t they? Follow the money. More dental fillings and extensive gum surgery. My final comment: It is beyond me why here in Canada the oral environment was considered separate from the rest of the human body. If you break a leg in Ontario OHIP will cover your medical expenses. If you need dental care, you are on your own. That really does need to change. As for dental practice ethics, I wish you luck. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons won’t be quick to sully the reputation of an entire industry any more than the College of Veterinarians of Ontario was quick to adequately and fairly address the veterinarian in St. Catharines who abused pets in his care. The CVO chose optics over ethics even if this time it bit them in the arse. No licensing body should ever be in the business of policing their own.


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