Misconceptions about Canada’s $13 Billion Canada Dental Care Plan

  • National Newswatch

The Government of Canada started implementing a $13 billion Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP) last month. This plan represents a significant opportunity to improve the oral health of uninsured Canadians. Dentists have long advocated for oral health to be considered essential primary health care, andthe dental profession has been sharing its expertise on how best to serve the oral health needs of eligible Canadians. There is still work to be done. 

Millions of Canadian seniors, children under the age of 18 and individuals with a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate are eligible to apply to receive dental care coverage. By next year, an estimated nine million uninsured Canadians will be eligible for the plan. This is excellent news. Yet not all dentists have registered to participate in the program. 

An urgent area for improvement is the federal government’s public communication about the CDCP. Issues and misconceptions about the program by the public persist. In fact, in a survey conducted last month by the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) and the Provincial and Territorial Dental Associations, we learned that over half of seniors (61%) have not heard about the co-payment requirement based on income for the CDCP. This is even higher among the general population at 74%. In addition, 59% of seniors, and 69% of the general population have not heard about the potential additional charges/costs. 

This is a problem. Our primary concern with these troubling findings is that continued misunderstanding about the program adds extra pressure on dentist visits and undermines patient care.

Unless things change and the government makes a concerted effort to clearly communicate the parameters and limitations of this plan, many people in Canada will experience difficulty in receiving care.  

Each dentist will have to decide whether to participate. They know what is best for their patients, staff, and practice. Although we acknowledge the progress that has been made by the federal government to address dentists’ concerns with the program, dental offices across the country are facing the added burden of having difficult conversations with patients about CDCP misconceptions. In fact, recent surveys with dentists show that dental office staff spend on average 50 minutes per day explaining the federal program to patients. 

Canada has a severe shortage of skilled dental office staff, particularly dental hygienists and dental assistants. There is concern that CDCP can make an already challenging situation worse. 

In response to continued confusion and misconceptions, the CDA and our provincial and territorial association partners are undertaking an education initiative encouraging people who are eligible for the CDCP to Know Before you Go. Based on what we’re hearing from our patients and know about our profession, this is what Canadians need to know before they go to their dentist and seek treatment under the CDCP: 

For many patients, treatment under the CDCP will not be free.

Many people are under the impression the CDCP will cover all the costs for their care. This is not the case. In many cases, the coverage provided by the federal government under CDCP is less than the usual dental service fees. Patients will be responsible to cover the difference. In addition, a patient’s family income may reduce the amount the federal government pays. 

Patients cannot receive CDCP covered treatments from any dentist

Until July, patients can only see a dentist registered to participate in the program. After July, patients can also see a dentist that will participate through the claim-by-claim pathway. However, this alternative pathway still requires dentists to accept the same CDCP terms and conditions and not all dentists may do so. This lack of clarity will leave patients confused and, in some cases, they may be unable to find a dentist to treat them.  

The CDCP will not cover all oral treatments today

Currently, CDCP offers limited coverage and treatment options. Care options like sedation, commonly needed by youth, seniors, and persons with disabilities, will need government pre-approval. We still don’t know how long our patients, will need to wait for the government to approve the treatment we know they may need.  

Canada’s new national dental plan has the promise of being a true game-changer for oral health, enabling expanded access to care for many Canadians. We reaffirm our commitment to working closely with the federal government to advance the common goal of improving access to oral health care for those who are uninsured.

Author: Dr. Joel Antel, President of the Canadian Dental Association