Monday, February 15, 2010

Health: Dental Care

If you live in the poverty well and are not receiving welfare or disability benefits, your dental coverage is up to you. For someone like me, that means no professional service at all. No checkups, no cavities filled, no tooth extractions. Zilch.

If you're an adult on welfare in British Columbia you're not much better off. The only 'dental care' that is covered is tooth extraction. Again, no oral exams, no fillings; and you can forget permanent or temporary replacements for your teeth. Even with extractions, you can run into problems. Dentists are reluctant to do them at all or in a timely fashion because the BC government pays them (eventually) according to a long outdated fee schedule.

No access to dental care results in more than the obvious, i.e. it affects more than 'mere' aesthetics (which is important given how the condition of your mouth affects your smile and the way people perceive you) or the ability to chew food or the maintenance of overall good health.

No access to professional care also affects one's ability to communicate.

I was always conscious when facilitating workshops and doing presentations for WISE of the extra care I must take not to slur my words.

You see, my teeth have eroded. Three molars were extracted over a decade ago. This was back when I had dental coverage under a university student plan. I wish the dentist had recommended filling instead, which he should have done. I suspect he anticipated insured replacement work.

In addition, two of my remaining molars are chipped. Another has a gaping hole in it, a result of its ancient filling having fallen out. I chew my food very carefully - more gumming it than anything else - to preserve what teeth I have left.

All of which means my cheeks have sunk in and affect my ability to articulate properly.

When doing presentations or workshops for WISE I had to make a conscious effort to try to open my already naturally small mouth wider to enable my words to be shaped properly. This was a constant concern and a physical challenge and it added to my tension of speaking in public.

If I could be granted one wish, it would be to have my mouth fixed.

ETA: Regarding the "free" dental clinic in Victoria which Melissa mentioned below in the comments section, a friend wrote to them because, she said, she was curious. Here's a portion of their response:
We are NOT a free dental clinic; we are a non-profit organization, which operates through a small subsidization from the Vancouver Health Authority and fundraising, so therefore we are not able to provide “free care.” However, we do see patients on Government Assistance ... without charging above and beyond what the Ministry will cover. [This is no different than any BC dentist is permitted to do. --Ocean] For people with no dental coverage we offer a 30% discount to help off-set the cost of dental care.
While the 30 percent reduction off their regular rates may help a subset of people who live below the poverty line, it doesn't help those living in the lowest decile of income, as Daphne and I do, and that's regardless of whether you live in Victoria, which Daphne and I don't. Travel to the clinic via public transit from where we live would cost a minimum $20.

This part makes me ill. It indicates how desperate the need is for dental coverage for all, not just for people with employee-based dental plans or the well-to-do:
We are currently booking several months down the road, into November/December for both cleanings and dental work such as fillings. If you have an emergency that cannot wait that long, we offer “walk ins” between booked appointments, as time allows, Monday through Friday. If you want to come see us that way, you need to be here no later than 8am to line up, as the line up begins before we open the doors at 9:00am.
Incidentally, until last fall, neither bus nor commuter train could get someone who lived in the Cowichan Valley - which is about 45 minutes away by car - to Victoria before 10am, Monday to Friday. In the reverse direction, yes, but to Victoria, where the jobs are, no. How brilliant was that, eh?


Kim said...

Apparently the CoolAid Society in Victoria has opened a free clinic downtown. They have dentists and hygienists. I was told it is not just for the homeless, but also for the poor. I'm in the same boat, but have not had an emergency lately (knocking on wood)

Melissa said...

my sisters friend elena works at the cool aid society. i think its west of chinatown but u should definitely look it up

Chrystal Ocean said...

One would suppose that a free dental clinic in Victoria would be intended to serve Victorians. That is typically how such things work. That is reasonable, given the likelihood of more than enough people in the community who could use the service.

Free dental clinics are similar in a way to food banks. Some people are singled out because the goods or services are not affordable, and thus available, to all. The best solution for providing dental care to everyone would be policy bringing oral health under the Canada Health Act. Then our universal healthcare system would be made to cover it too and everyone would be treated equally.

Daphne Moldowin said...

Also to consider is the travelling involved to get to the free dental clinic which is not free nor exactly convenient.

Chrystal Ocean said...

Yep, that was my first thought. Getting there is always a problem. Hell, if one can't manage local transit fares to get to stores that sell discounted food (by which point, you've not saved anything cuz you can't carry it all), one sure as hell can't afford the fares for longer hauls.

Kim said...

Yes, absolutely, dental care is health care and should be covered. And you should be able to board a bus whether you have fare or not.

Ian said...

Even something as simple as fluoridating water in Victoria and Vancouver would have probably saved your teeth for a few more years. In Calgary and Edmonton all water is fluoridated, it's safe and effective at providing at least some minimal coverage for the young and poor.

Beyond that, I completely agree that at least some basic level of dental coverage ought to be extended to all. It's not just a cosmetic procedure.

Joanna said...

Dr Eric Meiner is very committed to helping people on low income take care of their teeth. He currently offers 2 free days per year, next one is December 7th but he may already be booked for this. Otherwise he does accept payment from MHS (Welfare) but does charge a small difference. However he has helped some of my clients by discounting his work at times. It is worth talking to him about your needs and seeing what you can negotiate with him.
Healthy teeth are so important to our health, I hope this is useful information.

Joanna said...

Re: Transportation. Wheels for Wellness will transport people for medical appointments from Duncan to Victoria. They are on the Internet and need you to book the trip about 2 weeks before hand.
Hope this helps,

Chrystal Ocean said...

Joanna, thank you so very much!

Was unaware of Dr. Meiner or that he strives to offer options for people of low income. Having just qualified for SAFER (supplementary aid for elderly renters), I have a bit more room to breathe, so last week I checked with a dentist just around the corner from me. Was told a consultation alone would cost up to $150, but a minimum of $100. Have written an email to Dr. Meiner's office requesting similar information. Hopefully, he can check the status of my mouth for a less hefty amount.