Earlier this year when the federal government announced plans to create a national dental care program, Dr. Lisa Bentley, dentist of over three decades and president of the Ontario Dental Association (ODA), was excited for the gap in access to care to be filled.
But now, even after meeting with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, the ODA is still unsure when the coverage will start or what care will be included, according to a release published Thursday by the association.
“That’s quite alarming,” Dr. Bentley told Global News. “We don’t know what the schedule is going to be like so we don’t know what procedures are going to even be covered.”
In Canada, although 70 per cent of patients have access to dental care, 30 per cent are left without it, according to Dr. Bentley.
Aside from surgical-dental services, dental care isn’t covered under the Canada Health Act, according to a report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
This means a large majority of services are funded by the private sector — including private insurers and Canadian households.
In late July, in order to explore what role private companies could play in administering the program, the Liberals put out a formal request for information (RFI) to members of the insurance industry.
With a “gap” in access, “patients end up in hospital emergency rooms with dental pain and infections and that’s unacceptable in this country,” Dr. Bentley said.
And now, with word of the Canadian Dental Care Plan, some patients are putting off a trip to the dentist with hopes it will be free in the future, according to Dr. Bentley.
“Sometimes they’re putting off a simple treatment like a small filling, which in two years might be a much larger problem. This really potentially could cause a bigger problem in access to care,” she said.
“What we would really like to see put in place is that the 30 per cent that don’t have access to care are the priority and that we don’t see people giving up their dental benefits and delaying treatment, thinking that dentistry is going to be free. It doesn’t look like that’s what’s going to happen.”
In Ontario, dentists get suggested treatment prices from the ODA, according to Smile House, a dental office in Brampton.
For new patients at the office, a complete examination could cost anywhere between $79 and $157. A teeth cleaning would cost around $120 to $236.
Across the country, other associations such as the Alberta Dental Association (ADA) are also confused about what is happening with the plan.
“We don’t know how it will be administered, what services will be covered or how this will work with the Alberta government’s existing dental programs,” the ADA states on its website, advising patients to continue with regular dental checkups rather than wait for the program to take effect.
The British Columbia Dental Association (BCDA) has also written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Duclos to ask for additional information regarding the program, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs, Cary Chan, told Global News.
The association has also provided “several key recommendations to make the Canadian Dental Care Plan fair and sustainable for all involved,” Chan said.
“Like the ODA, we are waiting for further details to be released about the plan and how it will be rolled out in the provinces,” he added.
Nationally, similar sentiments have also been expressed by the Canadian Dental Association (CDA).
“It will be vital for the federal government to work closely with all relevant partners on the implementation of any new dental care proposals,” said CDA president Dr. Lynn Tomkins in a June press release.
“CDA looks forward to collaborating over the coming months to develop an approach that will help narrow the gaps in access to dental care for our underserved populations, while minimizing disruptions for the majority of Canadians who already have dental coverage,”
The Liberal government has set aside $5.3 billion over five years to fully implement the dental care program.
To keep the minority government from falling apart by 2025, they’re currently working to provide dental coverage to low and middle income children by the end of this year as part of their confidence and supply deal with the New Democrats.
If the deadline isn’t met, the NDP have vowed to walk away from the deal.
Although details continue to be scarce, four sources with knowledge of the government’s plan, but weren’t authorized to speak publicly, previously told the Canadian Press this temporary solution would involve giving money directly to families who qualify while a more permanent, expanded program comes to fruition.
In July, Duclos said he was confident the federal government would be able to set up the proposed program by the end of the year.
Earlier this month, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also said he was confident the dental care program would come together before year’s end, as promised.
But although the government is working to fulfill its commitment, even Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has admitted providing new services to Canadians is difficult.
“As we experienced, for example, in rolling out child-care agreements across the country, delivering new services to Canadians is complicated,” she said during a Toronto press conference on Aug. 9.
“I think Canadians understand that.”
Plans are also in place to extend coverage to Canadians under 18, seniors, and persons living with disabilities in 2023.
Then, by the end of the supply and confidence agreement in 2025, the program is planned to be fully implemented to those in the qualifying family-income bracket.
This means Canadians with an annual household income of over $90,000 won’t have access.
Despite the over $5 billion set aside by the government, a parliamentary budget officer has estimated the plan will cost nearly double that, at $9 billion.
The ODA is unsure if the Liberals will stay true to their word on dental coverage for Canada’s youngest as they have not received any information from the government, according to Dr. Bentley.
“We want to make sure taxpayer money is utilized appropriately. We really want to make sure that everybody in Ontario and throughout the country have access to timely dental care,” she said, noting the association would like to work with the government to help properly craft the plan for Canadians.
“We have the knowledge and the history. We represent over 10,000 dentists,” she said. “We really want to be at the table.”
— with files from the Canadian Press