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Soc Sci Med. 2003 Dec;57(11):2089-99.

The dental care pathway of welfare recipients in Quebec.

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Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, 3640 University (Strathcona Building), Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2B2.


IN Quebec (Canada), the utilization of dental care services varies greatly from one social class to another: whereas the well-to-do visit the dentist often for check-ups, those most in need demonstrate a "wait-and-see" attitude. The objective of our research was to describe the dental care pathway of the underprivileged when confronted with symptoms, and to understand how this pathway might be interrupted and possibly lead to tooth extractions. We arranged 16 one-on-one interviews with adult Montrealers who had experienced a dental problem during the 12 months preceding the interview. These participants, 9 women and 7 men aged between 30 and 48, lived in great poverty: all were welfare recipients, and as such, enjoyed the benefits of a government programme that entitled them to free basic dental care. During the interviews, the interviewers asked the participants to describe their latest dental problem and their subsequent behaviour. The dental care pathway of our participants was characterized by a strategy of adapting to the symptoms. This process of adapting, which can last several months, is essentially an individual process in which the individuals often resort to self-medication to soothe their pain. They decide to visit a dentist when the pain is too great and self-medication is no longer effective. Once this decision is made, their dental care pathway may nevertheless be interrupted in two ways: first, in the failure to find a dentist, and second, later, in the failure to complete treatments that are not covered by the welfare program, such as endodontic treatment. The fragmented character of these dental care pathways refers us to two features of accessibility: financial accessibility and acceptability. With regard to financial accessibility, our study shows that the public coverage intended for welfare recipients presents major gaps. As for acceptability, our participants are strongly critical of the dental profession, and develop a culture of rejection of it.

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