New evidence shows people facing homelessness urgently need access to dental care

Figueiredo RLF, Hwang SW, Quiñonez C. Dental health of homeless adults in Toronto, Canada. Journal of Public Health Dentistry. ­

Issue: Ontario’s patchwork of public dental programs leaves many without care. In particular, thousands of adults living on low incomes cannot afford a visit to a dentist, which can harm their physical and emotional wellbeing and ability to get work. Organizations across the health and social sectors are calling for unified oral health services so that everyone, at every income level, has access to quality dental care. To learn more and get involved, visit www.oaphd.on.ca

What we did: Men and women who are homeless can face the greatest barriers to dental care and suffer the worst consequences. To clinically document the extent of this need, we assessed the oral health of people at Toronto shelters, in a cross-sectional survey that involved an interview plus a clinical exam in a portable dentist chair. The average participant was 39 years old and had been homeless for four years. This is the first peer-reviewed dental health survey of adults facing homelessness in Toronto.

Findings:

– 97% of people surveyed in Toronto shelters needed dental treatment compared to 34% in the general Canadian population.

– 40% needed emergency dental treatment.

– 35% had avoided eating due to mouth problems.

– 32% said they experienced tooth pain over the last month. Of these, 75% did not receive care.

– 35% had not seen a dentist in four years or more.

– 70% had no insurance coverage for dental care.

– Oral health was markedly worse for people who were homeless or unemployed for longer than one year.

– People were often unaware of their own dental problems. While 20% said they had no dental problems, only 3% were found to be problem-free during an oral exam.

This paper can be found in the Li Ka Shing database

Contact: Rafael.Figueiredo@dentistry.utoronto.ca

To read an opinion piece from Dr. Stephen Hwang on the need for access to oral health care in Ontario, click here.

For additional research from CRICH on oral health and income, please click here.

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