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Issues & People

The Price of Oral Health: Dental Costs for Uninsured Canadians

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In 2017, the Canadian Dental Association reported that 32% of Canadians have no dental insurance. What’s more, researchers found that individuals from lower-income families had worse oral health and suffered from untreated disease more often. Overall, the high costs of dental treatments and preventative care means uninsured Canadians visited the dentist less often, delayed visits, and were more likely to decline recommended care due to cost.

The CDA report also found that:

Changes to Middle-Income Insurance Coverage

For middle-income Canadians, access to dental insurance coverage is becoming tenuous. According to research, middle-income workers have experienced changes in the amount and availability of employment-based dental insurance.

  • A 2013 study by of Statistics Canada Data completed by researchers at the University of Toronto reported that only 49% of middle-income Canadians had dental care coverage and about 34% said they faced cost barriers to dental care in 2009, that figure up from 13% in 1996.
  • A 2014 report by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences indicated that about six million Canadians avoid visiting the dentist each year because of the cost.

Government Response 

Some provincial governments and politicians have been pushing for expansion (and in some cases creation) of dental coverage for uninsured children and adults.

Nova Scotia recently expanded coverage within the Children’s Oral Health Program to pay for more basic dental treatments for children who do not have private insurance. The program which focuses on preventative care now provides kids 14 and under with access to molar sealants and annual fluoride treatment with children at a high risk of cavities now eligible for a second fluoride treatment. 

Amidst pressure from uninsured dental patients and politicians in British Columbia, Premier John Horgan indicated that his government was exploring how it might include dental care in the provincial health system. And while B.C’s Healthy Kid’s program did just expand dental coverage limits for families earning less than $42,000 annually, the province’s Health Minister, Adrian Dix, has publicly recognized that dental care is insufficiently covered.

When asked what her government was doing to ensure that all Canadians can access medically necessary dental care, Canada’s Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor responded, “At this point in time with respect to investments we’re making in that area federally no investments are being made.”

Dentists-Driven Solutions 

Supervised Student Clinic

The University of Saskatchewan has responded to the need for affordable, emergency dental care by creating DIRECT Dental, a clinic where dental students nearing the end of their training provide treatment to patients in a supervised setting. DIRECT stands for “Dental Initiative Rendering Emergency Care Treatments”. The team here provides dental advice and emergency treatment to patients who can’t afford treatment at a private practice. But space is limited. DIRECT Dental will operate just 14 days over the 2018-2019 academic year and appointments are available on a first come, first serve basis (patients are triaged and treated accordingly).

Reduced Cost Dental Office

In Regina, Dr. Blake Mitchell is opening an affordable dental office called Simpli Dental this spring. The clinic will offer certain dental treatments and procedures at a lower price in an effort to attract patients who might be avoiding the dentist because of the cost. To lower costs for patients, Simpli Dental will use things like a digital check-in station and online appointment booking. 

Subscription-based Memberships

In the United States, many dentists are switching to a subscription-based membership model that eliminates the need for insurance coverage altogether. In a subscription-based dental office, patients buy a packaged plan for preventive care like prophylaxes, evaluations, and radiographs at an affordable price. Patients also receive discounts on certain procedures and can pay membership dues monthly or annual using digital subscription platforms. Plans vary among dental offices but all provide cost transparency and treatment entitlements for the term of the subscription. 

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Until next time!

CDA Oasis Team

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