Public health struggling to find dentists for Ontario Seniors Dental Care Plan

GUELPH 50ȻƵ While Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) is ramping up its dental programs post-pandemic, it is struggling to find dentists to provide services for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Plan (OSDCP).

WDGPH offers two dental programs 50ȻƵ Healthy Smiles for children and youth under 19 in low-income families, and OSDCP for low-income seniors over 65.

Healthy Smiles has three main components: dental screenings in schools, preventative services in clinics, and emergency and urgent care services for those children who qualify.

The ramp up to Healthy Smiles has been successful, with 14,545 children screened in the 2022-23 school year; 476 received services for urgent needs and 816 for non-urgent needs.

And WDGPH is bringing its fluoride varnish program back to 42 schools in the region.

This program will be offered to all junior and senior kindergarten students in those schools as well as Grade 1 and 2 in the highest risk schools.

50ȻƵWe would love to see fluoride in all schools,50ȻƵ said Rita Isley, director of community health, chief nursing officer and author of the Feb. 7 report to the board of health.

50ȻƵIt has significant benefits to the overall health of a child, especially for those who are struggling.50ȻƵ

50ȻƵIt50ȻƵs a very low-cost program,50ȻƵ said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer, adding the program is currently funded by the municipalities and not the province.

But they both expressed concerns about the seniors50ȻƵ dental plan.

The income threshold for the seniors50ȻƵ dental program is $22,000 per year for a single, or $37,100 for a couple.

Many seniors find they are disqualified from the program if they receive a one-time government rebate or benefit that ups their income and knocks them out of eligibility.

Some 25 to 30% of local seniors in the program were disqualified in the 2022-23 year, according to the report.

50ȻƵWe want to eliminate that,50ȻƵ Mercer said. 50ȻƵThese benefits should not push them over the income threshold.50ȻƵ

50ȻƵWe50ȻƵre asking that those types of rebates are eliminated from the calculation,50ȻƵ Isley added.

The second problem 50ȻƵ perhaps the biggest one 50ȻƵ is that public health is having a hard time finding private-practice dentists to provide the services.

Currently, 13 dental service providers and only one oral surgeon are in the program for all of Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin.

50ȻƵSeniors with complex medical histories and/or those with some degree of urgency are prioritized for referrals to the oral surgeon,50ȻƵ states the report.

“The oral surgeon has capacity to accept only one client every six months.”

The reason is fee codes, which don50ȻƵt even cover the cost of the procedure for the dentist performing it.

50ȻƵThe fee codes 50ȻƵ are well below the rates a dentist would charge,50ȻƵ Mercer said.

50ȻƵThis is becoming a significant barrier 50ȻƵ it50ȻƵs a difficult sell, asking the dentist to subsidize the program.50ȻƵ

Isley noted a dentist would charge about $4,000 for a tooth extraction and crown, while the OSDCP pays about $800 for the same procedure.

And the fee codes haven50ȻƵt been adjusted since 2016.

50ȻƵThat50ȻƵs the variance,50ȻƵ Isley said. 50ȻƵThey are losing money and paying out of pocket.50ȻƵ

50ȻƵThis situation is not just unsustainable but ethically questionable,50ȻƵ Isley writes in the report.

50ȻƵAccess to appropriate dental providers is essential for the program and the clients.50ȻƵ

The recommendations that will be sent to the ministry, with the board50ȻƵs approval, are that:

  • fee code rates for dental providers in the OSDCP be reviewed;
  • government rebates be removed from income calculations for the OSDCP program; and
  • the fluoride varnish program be introduced in all publicly funded schools.