Low-income seniors hopeful as free dental care program rolls out in Niagara

Maria, 87 hasn’t been able to afford regular visits in 15 years

At 87, widowed and with a past working on a fruit farm, her slim retirement cheque has not allowed for regular dentists visits in later years, taking a toll on her oral health and wellbeing.

“I always had good teeth, but now I have dentures and problems I need taken care of, but it has just been too expensive”, she says.

But she is not alone.

The Ontario government estimate two-thirds of low-income seniors do not have access to dental insurance.

But even that option takes a toll on both finances and energy levels with gas, parking, food costs and the stress of driving from her Thorold home on the busy highway – and sometimes it takes weeks to get an appointment.

So when dental community dental health worker Shannon Douglas gave a presentation on a free routine dental care program at the Thorold seniors center on Thursday, it came as welcome news to the 35-40 people in attendance.

The Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program, OSDCP, was announced in April, with the government investing roughly $90 million annually for seniors aged 65 or older, and with an income of $19,300 or less, or couples with a combined annual income of $32,300 or less.

The program is now rolling out in the Niagara region with two locations offering treatments under the program; one in St Catharines and one in Welland, with more locations coming in the weeks to come.

“We want to make sure seniors have access to the program and are helped with the applications. We even go to people’s homes”, Shannon Douglas said.

Seniors who have signed up for OSDCP will soon get a card in the mail with a public health-number to call, and will then be booked in for their appointments.

Maria Grisonich is hoping she can get her teeth taken care of within two weeks.

“The program is really well-needed. It’s fantastic. I haven’t had regular dentist visits in 15 years”, she says.

Quest Community Health center will continue the presentations, not only in seniors centres but in public housing projects and shelters.

It is estimated that 100,000 low-income seniors will benefit annually from this program once fully implemented.

For more information, visit the program website here.