Sandy Harnett is joining in the effort of the Seniors Network to provide some kind of dental care for those on low incomes.

Sandy Harnett is joining in the effort of the Seniors Network to provide some kind of dental care for those on low incomes.

Maple Ridge seniors caught in dental squeeze

Pulling troublesome teeth cheaper than fixing them

Sandy Harnett has lot of choices. Should she buy winter tires, or get her teeth cleaned? Get glasses renewed or go grocery shopping?

Since her husband died in September 2009 and she lost her dental care coverage, Harnett’s trips to the dentist have had to come second to other pressing needs.

“I don’t want to sound like a bitter widow,” she says, explaining her predicament in a local coffee shop.

“I’m broke as we speak, every month.

“You need a car to get to appointments,” she says, explaining the need for winter tires.

Yet Harnett, at 70, knows she’s better off than many. She’s getting by on a total monthly pension of $1,660.

“I get more than other people get and I know that. But I don’t know how other people manage,” adding that some single seniors have to scrape by on $900 a month.

It’s why Harnett is joining in the effort of the Seniors Network to provide some kind of dental care for those on low incomes, so they can get the basics and not see further deterioration of their health.

Sometimes, scrimping seniors even have their teeth pulled, rather than repaired, to minimize costs.

Harnett did that herself last September.

“I had a tooth extraction because I couldn’t afford the other things.

“That was $211 for one tooth.”

She’d like to go back to get her teeth cleaned at a cost of $130,  “but I’m always afraid of the next bill.”

She hopes the government will do something, soon.

“How long do we have to wait?

“It’s sickening having to beg for better health care.”

Her friend, Sandra Roth, 71, is in a worse predicament, with chronic health problems, such as fibromyositis, scoliosis, osteo-arthritis and four recent heart attacks.

She had three teeth pulled last June, but still needs $2,700 of dental work done. She also has arthritis in her jaw and hasn’t had her teeth cleaned in five years, needs new glasses and a hearing aid.

She’s getting by on a monthly pension of $1,800 month, from which she has to pay $620 in rent, then buy groceries, medicine and car insurance.

She needs physiotherapy twice a month. Those treatments in Burnaby cost her $135 each time, including paying someone to drive her into Burnaby.

“By the time we pay for rent and pay for our other expenses, we don’t have money left over for the dentist.”

Roth, who’s divorced, lost her investment in what turned out to be a leaky condo in November 1999, declared bankruptcy and has no savings.

Her 600-square-foot apartment in the downtown is sparsely furnished, she says. “I find it embarrassing because I don’t have a nest egg.

“I have nothing.”

She’s been trying to get someone at Ridge Meadows Seniors Society to help her access funding assistance, but after two years, nothing’s happened.

But even getting teeth pulled can be costly. Barb Chipperfield’s 87-year-old father-in-law had an abscessed tooth and two others removed this week. It cost him $1,250.

Dental costs are not just an issue for those eking by on Canada Pension and Old Age Security.

“I have friends of mine who are not seniors … who have teeth pulled because it’s too expensive to have them crowned,” Chipperfield said.

She followed different strategy, however, when faced with her own dental work – seven crowns and four implants. She got the repairs done in Tijuana, Mexico, last year for $5,300. The local price was $25,000.

Dental care for seniors is being addressed jointly by the Seniors Network the umbrella seniors group in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, and the Salvation Army’s Caring Place.

Widows are affected the most,” says Heather Treleaven, co-ordinator with the Seniors Network.

“It affects their health because they’re not able to eat properly.”

She’d like to reinstitute the previous community dental days in Maple Ridge in which several dentists reduced their rates for needy seniors and is working with Salvation Army’s Caring Place on that.

Abbotsford Food Bank offers a free basic dental service for those on low income, she pointed out.

The clinic has been running since 2007 and staffed completely voluntarily by dentists and hygienists.

“That sounds absolutely wonderful. Why can’t we have that?” asked Harnett.

Treleaven says in the next 20 years, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows will see a 150-per-cent increase in its over-65 population –  compared to a 118-per-cent increase for Metro Vancouver.

There’s been a 20-per-cent increase in senior clients at the Friends in Need Food Bank in the last five years and a growing number paying more than half their income on housing.