Gord Johns has initiated a mail-out that asks constituents the date of their last visit to a dentist, and if they can afford to see a dentist as often as needed. The Courtenay–Alberni MP says the survey has generated the biggest response he’s received from people in his riding.
Pre-pandemic, Johns said one in five Canadians were skipping the dentist due to cost.
“It’s worse now because millions of Canadians have lost their jobs, or they’ve lost their employment-sponsored benefits,” he said, noting 12 million Canadians do not have dental insurance. “Oral health diseases are some of the most preventable chronic diseases in Canada.”
The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) says acute dental infection can lead to significant complications, and in some instances become life threatening.
“Poor dental health is associated with a variety of serious medical conditions, and chronic dental infection can result in inflammation which can lower immune system response,” said Dr. Aaron Burry, deputy CEO – professional affairs at CDA. “Oral health is part of our overall health and well-being…A healthy mouth helps you enjoy life.”
The NDP is urging the federal government to support its proposal to provide dental coverage to those who cannot afford a visit to the dentist. The dental plan would benefit 6.7 million people whose household income is less than $90,000 a year.
The federal Health Ministry says it’s always working with provinces and territories to strengthen health care in Canada. Last year, the ministry welcomed the Standing Committee on Health’s decision to study the idea of a national dental care program.
“This study would give us a comprehensive understanding of existing dental needs and help us determine the best approach to improving access to dental care for Canadians,” says a statement from the office of Health Minister Patty Hajdu. “Every Canadian deserves access to good oral healthcare, and we look forward to seeing the results of this study.”
An October 2020 report — Cost Estimate of a Federal Dental Care Program for Uninsured Canadians — says the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that ongoing program costs for the federal government would average $1.5 billion through to 2024-25.
The CDA says a number of studies estimate that including full dental care within Canada’s health care system would far exceed $5 billion. Rather than creating a separate federal program, the association supports a model where additional funding would be provided to provinces to enhance existing public programs.
“Although there are gaps, Canada has one of the best oral health care delivery systems in the world, with care primarily delivered through private dental clinics,” Burry said.
However, a minority of Canadians, including children, seniors, Indigenous peoples and other special needs groups, do not have access to dental services. Burry said it is vital that the federal government collaborate with provincial and territorial governments to ensure that oral health programs are prioritized and funded.
Public programs in Canada represent only six per cent of total spending on oral health, he added.
“Over the past decade, a steady erosion of funds to existing oral health care programs across the country has created an environment where the needs of vulnerable groups are no longer adequately met,” Burry said. “Funding for these programs is not growing at even the rate of inflation, and as a result, spending envelopes for public programs that remain stagnant are actually shrinking as the cost of delivering this care continues to increase.”
For years, he said the CDA has recommended that as part of any new health-related funding to provinces through the Canada Health Transfer, the federal government needs to invest $3 billion a year to adequately fund existing or lapsed oral health programs administered by provinces and territories.
“This would help to alleviate pressure on programs which have seen a degradation in funding levels, and would also help to renew oral health programs previously cancelled under budget constraints,” Burry said. “This is a better approach to improving oral health care outcomes for those Canadians most in need, as opposed to the creation of a new federal program.”