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New dental campaign wants healthy smiles for all

If you've ever stayed up late into the night with a toothache, or spent weeks ignoring dental pain, there may only be one thing to take solace in: you are not alone.

Azar Mehrabadi, an organizer with Alliance for People's Health, has spent her afternoons and weekends over the past months collecting stories about people's teeth and their access to dental care.

"It came on our radar through talking to people about their general health," Mehrabadi told The Tyee. "Lack of access to dental care was one of the major issues affecting regular people, working-class people."

Statistics Canada data from 2009 showed that 62 per cent of Canadians had private dental insurance, six per cent had public insurance, and 32 per cent had no dental insurance at all. The same data shows that more than one Canadian in 10 avoids full dental treatment over the course of the year because they can't afford the cost.

Lack of dental care is something that impacts uninsured kids, adults and seniors throughout B.C. In response, the Alliance for People's Health has started a Smile with Dignity campaign proposing that dental coverage be made universal under the Medical Services Program.

In some provinces children's access to dental care is guaranteed under Medicare, says Mehrabadi, calling the B.C. government's decision to leave kids out "political."

And though the largest dental association in the province isn't part of the campaign, they wouldn't oppose a scheme that increased access to dentists. "It's such a huge project that it's not something that we're kind of lobbying for at this time, but if it came in obviously we'd embrace it," said Bruce Ward, president of the B.C. Dental Association, which represents more than 2,900 dental professionals.

"We are looking at fights that we can choose that are doable and one of those is the plan for low-income seniors," Ward told The Tyee. "The Premiers Council on Ageing recommended that, and that's definitely something that we could get behind," he said.

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