The Amherst News - 2020-03-25


Embrace free dental care


DAVE MATHIESON @amherstdaily

Dentists say not many people are accessing MSI benefits for dental care. AMHERST, N.S. – Giving away free dental care isn’t easy. “When we talked to the dentists we learned that only 52 per cent of the people eligible for MSI (Medical Services Insurance) coverage were going for preventative work,” Colleen Dowe said. “Even though it was free, people still weren’t taking their children to the dentist.” MSI is available for Nova Scotia youth who are 14 and younger. Dowe, who is the Community Health Board Co-ordinator at the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Amherst, says Nova Scotia offers some of the best coverage in Canada. She works closely with Janine DeWitt and Natalie Dixon, both with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Together, they are looking for solutions to help people overcome barriers to accessing free dental health care. “One of the things we’ve learned was that education, unfortunately, didn’t make an impact for accessing dental care,” DeWitt said. “So, one of the things we’re looking to do as a working group is issue a public polling survey to help gather a better understanding of the oral health status of Cumberland County residents.” The first part of the threepart survey was recently issued to the public, with the next two parts being rolled out in the coming months. “We are doing the surveys because we want a populationbased solution to overcome barriers to service and to learn who has access to service so we can target interventions to improve overall oral health of folks in Cumberland County,” DeWitt said. Dixon says people suffer from dental health-care issues throughout Cumberland County. “The age ranges from children all the way through to the senior population,” Dixon said. Why people don’t access free health care is a question that has stumped the Health Authority for decades. Several programs have been tried over the years but nothing seems to have a major impact. Programs include the Just Ask program designed to reduce intimidation people might feel about getting dental work done and accessing MSI coverage. Also, believing transportation might be an issue, there was a consideration to bus kids from rural parts of Cumberland County to dentists in Amherst and Springhill. They’ve also spent much time in classrooms providing information and dental packages to elementary school kids. “From 2010 to 2016 we gave out packages to 6,000 kids,” Dowe said. “For all the work we’ve done there was no uptick from the 52 per cent, but maybe that number would have been less if we didn’t do it.” Besides getting more people to see their dentist, they also encourage better eating and drinking habits. “To a lot of us, all you have to do is brush, floss, drink water and not eat a lot of sugary food,” Dixon said. “But we live in a society where sugar is king, so overcoming sugar is a huge barrier to overcome.” The Rethink Your Drink campaign encourages people to avoid pop and make more healthy choices such as water and white milk. Dixon says that every time you drink a sugary or acidic beverage you’re mouth goes into an acid attack. And drinking pop all at once allows the mouth to recover after 30 minutes, but if that same pop is consumed over an entire day the mouth doesn't have a chance to recover until the drink is complete. No matter your drinking habits, Dixon, Dowe, and DeWitt encourage everybody to fill out the surveys. “The first one is about overall oral health, the second is about access to oral health services, and the third one is around population interventions that support oral health,” DeWitt said. “They will go out three weeks apart and they will be sent via social media and email and shared with partners who will share them with the public.” For more information call Colleen Dowe at the Cumberland Health Board at 902-3970376 Also, the online survey can be accessed at:


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