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Community Supports Dental Health in NorthumberlandCommunity Supports Dental Health in Northumberland

Healthy teeth are necessary for overall health. In Northumberland County, this principle has been given voice through a growing coalition of community and health-care organizations. Northumberland County can be seen as typical of Southern Ontario, a mix of many small rural communities, with century-old farms, and growing urban areas. Located on the shores of Lake Ontario and extending north to Rice Lake, the county includes a sizeable portion of the Oak Ridges Moraine. Port
Hope and Cobourg are the principal towns, but there are also significant and growing concentrations of population in communities such as Brighton, Campbellford, Warkworth, Colborne and Gores Landing.

For some time, social service agencies and organizations such as the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRHU) have been receiving requests from low-income
families, individuals and seniors on fixed incomes for help in obtaining necessary dental care. Anna Rusak, a Health Promoter with the Dental Health Department of the HKPRHU,
says that “people in need of help either do not have private dental insurance coverage or their coverage is too limited to provide for all the dental care needed. Since dental care is not covered by OHIP, many people are simply unable to take care of their oral health needs”

The concern about access to dental care was echoed in a Community Matters survey conducted by the Northumberland County United Way in 2006. For example, 46% of respondents in Port Hope identified the cost of dental care as a major issue for their community, while 20% indicated it was a major issue for their families.  Across the county, the cost of dental care ranked third among important issues for both the
community and families, after finding a family doctor and affordable housing Lynda Kay, Executive Director of Northumberland United Way, says, “It is a fairly significant issue. It came up throughout the county.”

In identifying the issue as a matter of importance for communities, as well as the individual families faced with high dental care costs, the survey reflected a recognition that good oral care is essential to good overall health. This issue was particularly important for seniors. For 48% of respondents aged 55 and over, the cost of dental care was identified as a major problem for their community. In the same age group, 19% said that this was a “major problem for their family.”5

For Ms Rusak, “it’s not just a teeth issue. It’s really about the fact that ‘you need a healthy mouth to have a healthy body’.” She sees this as something that has been left out of health planning and service delivery policies.

To find a solution to this problem, the HKPRHU held an Access to Dental Care forum in March 2005, with several guest speakers who talked about the difficulties faced by people on low incomes, including not only access to dentists and their services but also simple things such as not being able to afford dental floss.

As a result of the forum, a group came together in June of that year to create a widely representative community coalition to promote good oral health and policy measures to assure access tosuch care for all, regardless of income level.

The Northumberland Dental Health Coalition (NDHC) has representation from the HKPRHU, Northumberland County Community and Social Services, the HastingsNorthumberland-Prince Edward VON, Golden Plough Lodge Long-term Care Facility, along with a hygienist in private practice, a retired dentist, and individual community members who have a special interest in working to enable access to adequate dental care for those on limited incomes.

The strategic planning process for the NDHC took off in September 2005, with support from OHCC Community Animator Lisa Tolentino for the development of a mission statement and terms of reference. The Coalition defined its mission as: “We aim to work in partnership with the community to facilitate the ability of all local residents to access regular dental care while empowering everyone to take ownership over and maintain good oral health.” The basic principle of the coalition is expressed succinctly: “We believe in order to have a healthy body it is necessary to have a healthy mouth.”6

The community education part of the coalition’s work began with the production and wide distribution of a bookmark that introduces the NDHC and invites people to join the Coalition. This reflects the NDHC’s determination to broaden its reach as widely as possible, to include not only those people and organizations with a direct interest in health care, but also those concerned with matters such as employment (since the appearance of teeth can often affect a person’s perceived employability), legal support
and social services. “Just letting people know that it’s an issue is really important,” according to Anna Rusak.

For Oral Health Month in April 2006, the NDHC held a press conference in which three members provided different perspectives on the challenge of access to dental care. This was followed up with an information display at the Northumberland Mall on April 22, 2006.
So far, the efforts of the NDHC to provide greater access to dental care have concentrated on the towns of Cobourg and Port Hope, but the aim is to expand slowly to cover the entire county. This is dependent on developing sufficient community support in all parts of Northumberland.

Recognizing that real change in accessibility to dental care for families, children and seniors depends on action by decision-makers at all levels of government, the Northumberland Dental Health Coalition is joining forces with similar coalitions in Peterborough, Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, Kingston and Ottawa. These coalitions have formed an alliance and are working on a joint presentation to raise

awareness and introduce proposals for action. The goal is to promote changes in policy and programs that will ensure access to dental care for those currently excluded, especially low-income individuals, families and seniors. According to Anna Rusak, this represents the natural evolution of the Coalition. “Our first year was more around getting ourselves established, getting our goals in line. The next step is to see if we can do something around policy change.”

 


1 Anna Rusak, interview, March 29, 2007.
2 Northumberland United Way, Community Matters, Community consultation Final Report, September 2006, pp. 17-18.
3 Ibid, p. 14.
4 Linda Kay, Interview, April 3, 2007.
5 Community Matters, op. cit., p. 15.
6 Northumberland Dental Health Coalition, Power Point presentation, June 1, 2006.

 

Posted April 18, 2007

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