Good oral health is important to a child’s overall health.
However, for some low-income families regular dental checkups may not be affordable.
To that end the Ontario government, as part of its poverty reduction program, has established the Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) and is working with the Woolwich Community Health Centre (WCHC) in St. Jacobs providing free dental screenings for children under the age of 17 that come from a low-income family whose net income is less than $20,000 per year.
There are free dental checkups held weekly at the WCHC for residents of Woolwich. Anyone attending a dental screening must provide proof of their annual earnings by providing their annual Goods and Services Tax Credit Entitlement Notice or annual Canada Child Tax Benefit and Ontario Child Benefit Notice as well as a government-issued identification like a driver’s license, health card or passport.
“So many families don’t have insurance, which means that parents can’t afford to even get checkups for their children and if they let it go for too long there can be some serious tooth decay which can cause pain and then they are in an emergency situation,” said Anna Wall, program coordinator. “There can be some serious health risks if you let it go too long.”
After the initial screening and a child qualifies for the program, the agency will issue a HSO client card. The card must be presented to all dental providers at every appointment. The client card is valid only for one year but if all of the necessary documentation is provided to confirm eligibility, then children are eligible for three years with a new card issued each year.
“The initial meeting is a checkup and then we do the paperwork to see if they qualify. There are different options available: we have the basic one, which is free dental for three years, but if they have limited documentation we can offer a one-year plan,” said Wall.
Children are allowed two dental visits a year as part of basic dental care.
The WCHC will outline the range of dental service options available in the community and provide the card that may be taken to a private dentist or dental hygienist who is participating in the program.
“If patients don’t have a dentist then we find them a dentist. It can be difficult finding a dentist that is accepting new patients so we help them find one.”
The program launched in July 2011 and the WCHC has had numerous screenings over the year.
“The program has been very successful as we have a lot of people now getting free checkups and dental treatment,” said Wall. “We have had a lot of interest from the Woolwich area as there are quite a few low-income families, most of them are Low German speaking families who don’t speak English and we are capable of helping them as we have people on site who act as interpreters.”
For more information about the Healthy Smile Ontario program visit their website at www.healthysmilesontario.com or contact Anna Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org.