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Comment: Accessible health care should include our teeth

A commentary by a local writer, activist and an advocate for seniors.
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Vital dental care is out of reach for too many Canadians, Doreen Marion Gee writes, and action from the provinces and the federal government is long overdue. BRIAN CASSELLA, CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIA TNS

Re: “Time for the silent majority to stand up for Canada,” commentary, July 16.

It is easy to cast aspersions on fellow imperfect humans, when viewing life through the lens of white privilege and economic advantage. Perhaps the writer should come down to earth and walk in the shoes of people who deal with the brutalities of the real world every day.

Many of us mere mortals, surviving on threadbare incomes, are “financially denied necessary medical care” on a constant basis.

His assertion that “nobody will be devastated by medical expenses” in this country seems oblivious to the real-life suffering of many Canadians who will never be able to afford medical treatment for a key area of the body — the mouth, teeth and gums.

Our oral health and the overall wellness of our bodies are intimately and powerfully connected. Health problems in the oral cavity have been connected to heart disease, stroke and pneumonia. Yet, there is no mention in the article of this essential health care being out of reach for many people across this country.

We should be questioning the status quo, not celebrating it. Those of us who are not insulated by economic advantages cannot afford to be complacent when we bear the brunt of unjust government policies.

Change is desperately needed in B.C. to make sure that people of all income levels and sources have access to proper comprehensive dental care.

As a low-income senior and former disability client, I am forced to deal with a diabolical system within the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. Their dental program has one sole purpose: To cut costs as much as possible by routinely denying coverage for any treatment beyond the absolute basics.

My harrowing experience is living proof of the unnecessary hell that many people go through in trying to get proper dental care in this province. It also shows the outrageous lengths that the government is prepared to go to in order to save money off the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.

The ministry recently denied my request for a crown and bridgework to replace a lost molar, even when they had confirmation from a denturist that a removable prosthetic would not fit in my mouth. In the obvious absence of any tooth, the ministry came to the absolutely bizarre and ludicrous conclusion that the dentist still should have provided basic dental care under their guidelines!

The provincial government took every option away from me, sentencing me to life without the ability to chew on one side of my mouth. “A nation where every sick and disabled person will be treated and helped” is a beautiful sentiment worthy of a James Stewart movie, but does not reflect real-time Canada.

Even within this country, our government lags behind the other provinces in providing affordable dental care. If the ultra-conservative premier of Ontario can launch a program to help connect low-income seniors with free dental care, the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program, then B.C. should certainly follow suit with its increased transfer payments for health care from Ottawa.

By not providing accessible dental care treatment to its citizens who cannot afford it, Canada has become an outlier among developed nations. In Denmark, the disabled, the elderly and those on low incomes have their dental care costs paid by the state. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service provides free dental care to anybody on a low income.

My quality of life is skewered by a mouth full of infected, broken and crumbling teeth. The loss of many of my molars is the direct result of being denied treatment to save them.

There is no essential difference between this scenario and being refused medical care to reinforce and build up a broken leg — until it is so brittle and weak that it has to be amputated. Thumping our chests will not help solve the problems many Canadians face in accessing medical treatment.

We all need to act to make this a more equitable and humane country by holding our politicians’ feet to the fire and demanding affordable dental care.

It is time for all Canadians to stand up and demand accessible health care from head to toe.

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