Building a sustainable and effective federally funded program
In 2022, the federal government made a commitment to make a significant investment in access to dental care. This investment aims to bridge the gap in dental coverage and help surmount the barriers to dental care faced by Canadians, particularly those from more vulnerable populations including seniors, children, low-income families, Indigenous Peoples, racialized individuals, and persons living with disabilities.
While every province and territory has a set of public dental care initiatives, these vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (see appendix D), and many have significant shortcomings. Some only cover children or those from low-income households; others do not cover the cost of dental care provided; many are chronically underfunded. Therefore CDA, alongside provincial and territorial dental associations across the country and other key oral health stakeholders, have long advocated for the federal government to invest in dental care. CDA respects that the federal government has responded with a clear financial commitment to supporting the oral health of Canadians.
CDA has called on the federal government to proceed slowly and carefully in developing proposals to implement its commitment on dental care. This would allow time to consult broadly with all relevant stakeholders, including dentists, as well as to collaborate with other levels of government that are active in this policy space. The government has heeded CDA’s advice by announcing a phased approach, starting with an interim Canada Dental Benefit for eligible children under 12. Going forward, the government may want to further investigate providing patients with an oral health care spending account as an interim phase to better understand patient treatment patterns and have a more informed basis for costing a more comprehensive plan, although, this should not limit patient treatment.
CDA believes that the federal government should develop a comprehensive federal oral health strategy that addresses a broader set of challenges facing Canadians in achieving optimal oral health. While a lack of dental coverage poses a significant barrier to care for many Canadians, there are many non-financial barriers that can make it challenging to access dental care necessary to achieve and maintain optimal oral health. These barriers are caused by socioeconomic factors, geographical factors (especially in rural and remote areas), staffing shortages, lack of community-wide preventative health measures, and access to quality data and research. Action on these fronts should not be neglected and will likely require additional federal investments in the coming years.
Given that the federal government commitment to access to dental care is set to be fully implemented by 2025 and that there is a federal election slated to take place in that same year, we urge the government to have a federal oral health strategy in place by April 1, 2025. The strategy should be developed through engagement with a broad set of stakeholders, including CDA, provincial and territorial dental associations, other organizations representing health professionals at the federal, provincial, and territorial level, as well as other key groups representing children, seniors, persons with disabilities, Indigenous communities, racialized Canadians, and other underserved demographics. The strategy should focus on delivering concrete results for better oral health outcomes for more Canadians, especially vulnerable populations, and for the long-term sustainability of our nation’s dental care delivery system.
Given that broad-based oral health programming is a relatively new activity area for the federal government, it will be important for the government to factor in opportunities to review and revise its approach, adjusting as needed. CDA urges the federal government to commit to a five-year program review of its approach to dental care, with a full report being made public upon completion. Five-year legislative reviews should include some measurable oral health outcomes and also be built into any legislation introduced to implement these proposals to ensure they are fulfilling their purpose. The government should consult oral health stakeholders, including CDA, and other professional and patient input.