Feb 7, 2023

The Importance of a Public Dental Care Program

Publicly funded dental care is a new possibility in Canada as the federal government rolls out the first phase of the Canada Dental Benefit, which provides financial support for the dental costs of children under 12 to families earning less than $90,000. 

Dental health is an important element in public health. Yet, like pharma-care and eyecare, many Canadians rely on paying for these expenses out-of-pocket or through private health insurance.  

For people with low incomes, this often means not accessing the care they need. This is especially true given that dental costs have risen more than 81% over the past 20 years, while inflation has risen 41% during the same time period. 

Considering Toronto food bank clients have a median income of $12,732 (Who’s Hungry 2022), they are especially affected by the costs of dental care.  

Daily Bread’s newest report from the Click/Hear program, through which we regularly survey participating food bank clients, measured the disproportionate barriers to dental care compared with the overall Canadian population:  

  • One-quarter of food bank clients reported they had not been to a dentist in three or more years. According to the Canadian Dental Association, three-quarters of Canadians have seen a dentist in the past year. 
  • 55% said there was a time in the past year when they or someone in their household needed to see a dentist but could not. Of those who did not go, 83% cited cost as the barrier. 
  • If faced with dental pain, respondents were asked what they would do: The majority (56%) would turn to over-the-counter medications or home remedies, while less than half (47%) would go to a dentist. Allowed to provide more than one answer, 20% said they would go to the emergency room (ER) or their physician (rather than a dentist) for dental pain.  
  • 63% of food bank clients reported they do not have dental insurance – nearly an inverse proportion to the number of Canadians with dental coverage (65%). 

At Daily Bread Food Bank, we recommend including dental care within the universal health care system to ensure that no one is left behind. While we commend the federal government for moving forward with the creation of national dental care, starting with the rollout of the Canada Dental Benefit to children under 12, we urge the expedited expansion of coverage to include all children, seniors, low-income single adults, and people living with a disability.  

Read more in the dental-care report, produced through our Click/Hear program.

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