Ontario rolls out dental care program for low-income seniors

by Satbir Singh  Grimsby Lincoln News

Sam Oosterhoff

Sam Oosterhoff announces the Ontario Seniors Dental Care program at the Lincoln Community Centre – Satbir Singh/Torstar

The Ontario government is rolling out a new program that will offer free dental coverage for low-income seniors.

Sam Oosterhoff, MPP of the Niagara West riding, made the announcement late last week at the Lincoln Community Centre.

People eligible for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care (OSDC) program must be 65 years of age or older, residents of Ontario, have an annual net income of $19,300 or less for a single person or a combined annual net income of $32,300 or less for couples, and seniors must have no other form of dental benefits (private insurance, or other government programs such as the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works).

The program covers routine dental care, such as examinations and assessments; preventive services such as cleanings and scaling; restorative services to repair broken teeth and cavities; x-rays; oral surgery services to remove teeth or abnormal tissue; anesthesia; endodontic services to treat infections and pain such as root canals; and periodontal services to treat gum conditions and diseases.

“Reality is dental care is one of those areas that impacts so much of your health journey and one that seniors, low-income seniors especially, face challenges with,” said Oosterhoff. “This is a way we can help out hopefully tens of thousands of seniors across the province to ensure they can have a better quality of life.”

To be enrolled in the program, an application can be accessed online or in person at a local Public Health unit or a Community Health Centre. In Niagara, Community Health Centres are available in St. Catharines, Welland, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Port Colborne.

Currently, only two locations within the region will perform dental treatment from a dentist under the Ontario Seniors Dental Care program: Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines and Niagara College Dental Clinic in Welland. Assessments and cleanings from a registered dental hygienist are available in Thorold, Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie and through Niagara’s Mobile Dental Clinic.

Lori Kleinsmith, chair of the Niagara Dental Health Coalition, said it’s good that the program covers a broad range of services, but she did raise some concerns, specifically with the coverage to dentures.

Under the program, dentures will only be partly covered and seniors will have to make a co-payment, no matter if the dentures require top, bottom or both. It’s the only service that requires a co-payment.

“My concern is there’s going to be people who are going to be unable to pay that co-pay,” said Kleinsmith. “I’m not sure why that had to be included and what’s going to happen to people that can’t pay that.”

She added that something like a tooth implant is considered a specialty procedure and isn’t covered under the program.

Ursula Hudson and Dorothy Prickett, members of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said the program is a good first step.

“It’s very well worthwhile,” said Prickett. “It’s just that they’ve got to iron out the kinks and make it more efficient.”

Hudson wondered how the government concluded that $19,300 would be the net income cut-off for a single person, adding that the poverty line is approximately $23,300.

“What are they using for this? How are they working it out?” said Hudson. “I called the Canadian Pension Plan, they didn’t know anything about it. They said just apply and see what happens.”

Kleinsmith is hopeful the next step from the government will be to provide dental care for those between the ages of 18 and 64 with low income or that don’t have dental coverage. With the Ontario Seniors Dental Care program, low-income seniors are covered and there is a program in place for those 17 and younger with no dental coverage.

“Many workplaces don’t provide dental coverage anymore, especially lower wage jobs, so there’s a real gap,” said Kleinsmith.

Oosterhoff said it’s important to recognize that the program doesn’t cover every man, woman or child, but it serves a particular targeted focus.

“This is a program that is targeted at high-risk seniors, low-income seniors, those who need the help the most,” said Oosterhoff. “It’s not the end of the road when it comes to improving our health-care system, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Kleinsmith knows Ontario Seniors Dental Care is a small program, but the government does need to look at expanding the coverage.

“It’s raising awareness now of access to dental, but I think there’s going to be a whole lot of people who are going to be calling or applying that find out they’re not eligible,” said Kleinsmith.

More information about the plan, how to apply and location addresses can be found on the Niagara Region website.