Food or Dental Care: a Grim Choice for the City’s Poor

By Grant LaFleche

The woman went five years without any real dental work. The last two of those without the ability to chew. When she finally did get dentures, she spent
hours savouring the ability to properly eat food.

“When you don’t have good teeth, or no teeth, it takes a toll,” said the client of Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold who asked not to be named
for this story. “I was one of those people who always had her hand in front of her mouth.

“The problem is when you are on Ontario Works, like me, you can’t save money to see a dentist. There just isn’t enough money to do that. If I have to choose between going to the dentist or food, I choose food.”

Betty-Lou Souter, CEO of Community Care, said the woman’s story is all too common. The local food bank had some funding to help her get some badly needed dentures, that money is running out.

“The United Way has decided not to continue funding that, so the funding ends on July 1,” Souter said. “But the demand is always there. Right now we have 65 people on a waiting list for dentures or similar work. It’s a serious quality of life issue and we are going to need some help.”

Souter said while much of the talk about helping the poor turns on ways of providing the basics of food, shelter and clothes, there are other important
issues like dental care that don’t get as much attention. Those who are in poor health and don’t have the money for proper dental care often suffer. Some
can end up going for years without teeth. It’s not just seniors, either, Souter said. The ages of those on her waiting list rage from those in their 30s
to as old as 77.

Souter said there are precious few options. Those who are on provincial disability or Ontario Works payments can work through Niagara Region’s social service offices for some funding. The provincial government does provide up to $650 for medical expenses like dentures.

Unfortunately, Souter said, the average cost for those currently on the waiting list at Community Care is $1,500.

Local dental supply company Henry Schien stepped up last week to help those on the waiting list. Peter Jugoon, vice-president of marketing for Henry Schien, said the company will contact Souter’s clients with denturists and provide the materials to have dentures made.

“So the plan is these people will be able to get their dentures for free or for a very low cost,” Jugoon said.

Even with Henry Schien’s help, Souter said a longer-term solution needs to be found.

Reproduced from