Workers at the Pointe-St-Charles community clinic are calling on the government to make better access to dental care a priority this year.
For decades, community health workers have asked successive Quebec governments to fully fund dental care for all – but it has never happened.
“If ever you had a toothache, you know how hard it is to function in your daily living and some people are stuck with this pain. It's linked to cardiovascular disease if you have an infection in your mouth and it's not treated,” explained Genevieve McCready of the Pointe-St-Charles Medical Clinic.
Health activists at the clinic say they're taking on the fight because 27 per cent of Quebecers can't afford any dental care at all.
“It's an alarming situation for us,” said Stephane Defoy, also from the clinic.
Right now curative, but not preventive, dental care is covered by Medicare for children under 10, and for some people on social assistance.
“That's a big problem for seniors. We see a lot of dental issues in Pointe-St-Charles with the seniors. It's terrible now,” he said.
Given the urgency, they want the health minister to take the first step, and start providing complete dental coverage to youths under 18 and all seniors.
The community workers are also asking that dental clinics be required to list their fees. Unlike doctors, dentists are not required to post a list of their prices.
Dr. Christophe Bedos believes in the group's mission; he worked as a dentist for years and is now a researcher and professor at McGill University.
“I think that's good, but I would go even further. Why not implement universal dental coverage in Canada, in Quebec? We can do it,” he said.
The government's inaction on the file is not the only obstacle, he said.
“I believe that some dentists are afraid of losing autonomy, of facing financial challenges. I hear that. In my opinion, the rights of citizens to access dental care is not in opposition to the right of clinicians to have decent income and working conditions.”
Both are possible, said Bedos.
The health activists say they'll increase pressure on the government in the coming months.