Universal Dental Care: Why it’s so important

Growing up I was never one of the kids who left school early or came in late because I had a dentist appointment. From a young age I knew that dentist visits were very expensive and not a financial priority in my household. In short, we just couldn’t afford it.

When low-income families have rent, groceries, commuting, and other expenses it is very hard to prioritize or justify spending hundreds of dollars on dental care for themselves or their children. Yet dental care is important and has a very strong connection with our overall health.

According to research done by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research “An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor.” This means that without regular visits to the dentist it can be almost impossible to determine whether you suffer from gum disease or any other oral health problems like Gingivitis, Periodontitis, or Trench mouth which if left unchecked can lead to more serious health problems. 

Research shows that dental care is an important part of our health, yet it is privatized and not accessible for many people in our city. Seeing as we have universal health care it almost doesn’t make sense that dental care is not included under the OHIP umbrella. Here are some average costs, in Canadian dollars, for common dental procedures:

Large Tooth Filling: $325 Small Tooth Filling: $80 (Silver Filling), or $200 (White Filling) Root Canal: $800 Dental Crown: $1425 (Gold), or $1625 (Porcelain) Dental Bonding: $450 Invisalign Braces: $7, 249 Veneer: $1, 750 Adult Dental Exam: $133 Child Dental Exam: $67 Tooth Extraction: $136 (starting at)

Good dental health can be achieved with good oral hygiene, yet this does not prevent an overbite, teeth-grinding, wisdom teeth eruptions, the need for braces, or an injury.

My parents always taught my brother and I to practice good dental hygiene and luckily neither one of needed braces or suffered from any mouth injuries. However, this luck ran out when I was in University and my wisdom teeth started giving me issues. I could feel the teeth growing at the back of my mouth and it caused me a lot of pain and headaches. Through my University I had dental insurance, a mere $500 for a procedure that would cost in the thousands – the average wisdom teeth procedure for the extraction of all four teeth costs about $2300. This seems impossible when you are a student who is in school full time and trying to make ends meet.

It is easier to prioritise the cost of food, books, or commuting over oral surgery.  Thankfully, I had a very nice and accommodating dentist who suggested I only take out one of my wisdom teeth (the one that was growing sideways and was causing the most discomfort) and he also suggested doing the procedure without being put to sleep. I was a bit afraid since most of the people I knew who had the procedure were put to sleep first and complained a lot about the recovery. The procedure was very comfortable even though I was awake and since I only pulled one tooth the recovery was quick. The tooth had already erupted so the procedure was quite simple

 I did this over my undergrad two more times as my insurance would renew every September. It took some patience and a lot of Advil to combat the headaches and overall discomfort I would experience from time to time. It wasn’t until last year that I finally took out my last wisdom tooth when I found a job with a good insurance plan and did not have to pay out of pocket for the final procedure.

Recently, I also began grinding my teeth in my sleep which would lead to painful migraines as soon as I would wake up. If I wasn’t lucky enough to have my work insurance, it would be back to Advil and pain management.  A mouthguard can cost anywhere between $300-$1000 dollars plus consultation fees. This is not a realistic expense for low-income families, let alone those with small children.

Universal dental care should be implemented in Canada especially for families and children who should not have to prioritize living costs over their health. Good oral hygiene only goes so far and we must consider all other issues that can not be prevented. 

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