A Pivotal Moment to Increase Access to Oral Health Care

Eligible Canadian residents are anticipating a dental program that will support their oral health and well-being. Over the past two years, they have been told that the Government of Canada is building a comprehensive, long-term dental care program. We have heard repeatedly from government leaders that the program will assist eligible low-income Canadian residents and others who face barriers to dental care, including seniors and those living with disabilities. We hope to see the federal government deliver on this commitment.

Throughout the development of the CDCP, the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) has been there every step of the way, providing feedback and suggestions to Health Canada to drive the best possible outcomes for eligible Canadian residents. In February 2023, the CDA released a proposed framework for the CDCP. Bridging the Financial Gap in Dental Care is a policy roadmap for the federal government and includes a set of recommendations to enhance access to dental care for all Canadians.

Our guiding principles remain the same, that any federally funded dental care program should:

  • be compatible with a holistic approach to oral health that acknowledges the interconnection between oral health and general health and well-being;
  • promote patient-centred care and a patient’s right to choose their provider;
  • prioritize preventative care; and
  • support the delivery of care primarily through the existing network of dental offices, supplemented as needed by public clinics.

A critical recommendation was that a federally funded program should not create additional administrative burdens for dental offices which could delay the provision of care. Any patient eligible for a federally funded program should be assessed quickly and easily during a dental appointment. Also, patients should not have to return to the dental office on another day to continue their care due to having to wait for approvals to proceed with their treatment plan. Historically, the administrative aspects of public dental plans have been cumbersome, leading to delays or barriers to care for vulnerable populations. This cannot be the case for CDCP patients. This program should simplify the delivery of care, not complicate it.

Dentists are front-line health care providers in communities throughout Canada, and these dentists need to have their voices heard. The CDA is the national voice for dentistry, representing over 21,000 dentists from coast to coast. Our profession will be asked to deliver treatment and must be partners in this project which has the potential to help millions of eligible Canadian residents.

The CDCP is estimated to cost $13 billion over 5 years which represents a significant investment of public funding. This investment can reduce the burden on the overall health care system, if done right. Easier access to comprehensive care reduces the risk of painful and costly dental problems. It also lessens the dental patient load in hospital emergency departments, saving costs and reducing the strain on the broader health care system.

A program that allows dentists to focus on what we do best—caring for our patients—provides Canadians with the best value from this historic investment. CDA wants to acknowledge the Hon. Mark Holland, the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, NDP Health Critic Don Davies, members of the Standing Committee on Health, and all parliamentarians for understanding the importance of oral health and working to remove barriers to accessing oral health care. We believe all those involved want to see this important investment be used successfully for patients in need.

Likely, work will still need to be done and CDA will continue to be a strong partner to the Government of Canada. The dentists of Canada want to see the CDCP work from the time of its implementation and fear the time is running out. Our advice and expertise remain on offer to all stakeholders engaged in the creation of this program. The Government of Canada needs to get this right to ensure good oral health for Canadians.

Dr. Heather Carr is President of the Canadian Dental Association