Canadians may have a new reason to smile. A national dental program proposed under the new Liberal-NDP deal could be one of the biggest health care expansions in Canada in decades.
This is good news, according to a Western University professor, and its impact goes far beyond dental health.
“We know that the inability to get something like an infected tooth treated can have health consequences,” said Dr. Noha Gomaa, professor of dentistry, epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Medicine and of Schulich Dentistry.
Gomaa’s research focuses on the impact of oral health on other major health issues, with particular emphasis on issues of access to oral health care and health equity.
She says an unhealthy mouth is linked to several health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and potentially many more.
Poor oral health can also be linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as premature or low birth weight babies, Gomaa said. She spoke about recent histories of Canada and United States people who lose their sight or suffer from brain abscess due to an infected tooth for which they cannot afford treatment.
“A badly infected tooth that is not treated can have serious consequences, such as the spread of infection to other organs such as the lungs, eyes or brain, resulting in hospitalization, blindness or even unfortunately death. dead,” says Gomaa.
The Schulich Dentistry professor said the proposed national dental program is great news for many Canadians and is “a promising step to ensure that dental care can finally reach those who need it most”.
“A pressing question is what this proposed program will look like, specifically, what dental services will be included and how they will be delivered,” Gomaa said.
Under the proposal, families without dental coverage and with an annual income of $90,000 or less would be eligible for coverage.
The plan also includes a provision for flat fees, which can be charged each time someone makes a claim, and will apply to anyone earning $70,000 or less per year.
“From what we currently know of the proposed plan, it looks like we are finally getting closer to fixing the current patchwork of our dental care system that has left many Canadians falling through the cracks; having to give up the basics of life to be able to afford to see a dentist,” Gomaa said.
She noted that many dental public health researchers across Canada have been studying and advocating for some sort of national program for years.
“Looking at the proposed income thresholds, I believe they seem reasonable given what we know about the income categories in which Canada’s working poor fall,” Gomaa said.
She explained that there are many people who have low-paying jobs without dental benefits, but do not qualify for government programs that offer dental insurance because they might be just above the income threshold.
The price tag
The upcoming federal budget, due out April 7, may provide an indication of the cost of a national dental care program. the Parliamentary Budget Officer costed a similar plan in 2020, estimating that the first year of the plan would cost about $4.3 billion, then about $1.5 billion per year until 2025.
This new proposal would see the program rolled out over multiple years, so past cost projections would likely not match.
Despite the potential multibillion-dollar price tag for such a program, Gomaa said the benefits to the entire healthcare system could outweigh the long-term costs.
“From what we know of the costs that not receiving dental care can have on the healthcare system, such as costs for emergency department visits, doctor visits, as well as productivity losses in terms of lost hours away from school or work due to dental issues, I think it would be safe to say that early intervention for what are mostly preventable conditions, has the potential to save public money,” she explained.
Gomaa said a set of basic dental services, backed by the best scientific evidence, should be available to everyone.
She also suggested that the national dental plan include “top-ups” in services for those who need them most, such as people with disabilities or those whose oral health is at higher risk due to health conditions. underlyings.
Only time will tell what the full program will look like, but Gomaa is optimistic that this proposed plan is a major step in the right direction. Now it’s all about execution.
“This is certainly a real opportunity for us to leverage what we know about dental care policy here in Canada and learn from international experiences to ensure that the proposed new program meets the needs dental health of all Canadians,” said Gomaa.