The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit opening an oral health clinic has eased the load in the emergency department at the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

Before the health unit opened the dental clinic, the hospital counted 800 adult dental-related visits to the emergency department in 2017.

After the oral hygiene clinic opened at the health unit last year, the hospital registered 630 dental visits, a drop of 170 visits.

Julie Patenaude-Bouffard, the health unit’s Interim Program Manager, Oral Health, says the hope is the number of visits to the hospital’s emergency department will drop even further as the word spreads.

The clinic was created for people on provincially-funded programs like Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

Indigenous people can also access the program in cases of non-insured health benefits.

In addition, Patenaude-Bouffard says if people in the general public don’t have insurance, there’s a financial criterion where they can access the dental services if they qualify.

She says it’s just a matter of calling the health unit to see if you qualify and filling out an application.

Patenaude-Bouffard does caution there is a six-month waiting list to have oral work done.

She says the length of the waiting list shows the need was there for this kind of service.

“The need has been great for quite a while and we have to catch up,” Patenaude-Bouffard said.

“So people have been in pain or experiencing dental problems and it’s taking a little bit of time to get caught up.”

Patenaude-Bouffard says part of the visits to the health unit includes educating clients about the need for good oral hygiene.

She says oral health is connected to the rest of our bodies.

Patenaude-Bouffard says if our oral health is in good shape, we “could see decreases in heart health, diabetes and low birth weights”.

“There are all kinds of connections to the health of the full-body,” she said.

The health unit has a dentist on staff, a certified dental assistant and the hygienist who will provide the education to the clients in addition to the cleaning.

By opening the oral health clinic and reducing the number of dental-related visits to the hospital, the health unit has helped avoid an extra $87,210 being spent at the hospital.

Patenaude-Bouffard says when a person goes to the hospital for a dental problem, the doctor isn’t trained to do extractions or fillings.

Instead what the person likely gets is a prescription for antibiotics to fight an infection.

But she notes this is more of a band-aid solution because the source of the problem is still there.

Unless the person has the problem taken care of, they will return to the hospital repeatedly and keep driving up the costs.

“But when they come to the health unit clinic, we’re taking care of the source,” she said.

“That’s where we see some savings because you’re going to have repeated appointments at the ER if you don’t take care of the source.”