Brown-John: Universal dental care seems appealing on surface

Article content

During a casual discussion between myself and a Canadian Armed Forces dentist stationed at a military base in Baden-Solingen in Germany, he examined remnants of my teeth still in place and remarked: “Good grief man, you are a dental cripple.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

As a youth, I had two dental visits with an elementary school in South Vancouver. Thus, twice before I departed home I experienced a dentist drilling. Thereafter, while attending university, I made two other visits to a dentist — both involved extractions.

In one instance while driving a truck the pain was so excruciating that when I spotted a dental shop. I stopped, entered and requested removal of the offending tooth. Reeking of liquor, this local rural dentist pulled another tooth.

Today, all has changed. I have been well-served by a remarkably competent dentist in Leamington as needed for root canals of which I’ve had many, along with a very capable Windsor endodontist. Also, as needed, tooth implants by one exceptional oral surgeon of Windsor and Leamington.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Indeed, I seem to spend a good deal of time in dental and associated service offices. All of that can be directly related back to the absence of both early childhood dental care and early mid-life care.

According to a report on the University of Illinois-Chicago website, “poor dental health has serious consequences, including painful, disabling and costly health conditions.”

There is mounting evidence dental problems, such as tooth decay and periodontitis, can contribute to several serious health issues, including impairment of functions of some internal organs.

Life expectancy can increase with regular dental care. So, providing some form of regular and universal dental care for younger people should offer greater opportunity for their healthier, longer lives.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Furthermore, offering dental assistance to many seniors who simply cannot afford more than as-dental-pain-dictates visits to dentists is certainly a welcome step forward in making the increasingly longer retirement years a tad more tolerable.

Normally I would not be supportive of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, however, the issue of some form of universal dental care for those most in need I believe is a welcome initiative.

But his enthusiasm for dental care — an outcome of his deal to help keep the minority Liberal government in office — should be tempered with some serious questions.

Question one is cost.

In the March 28 federal budget, the projected cost of the government’s dental care insurance program soared to more than double what had originally been projected. The federal government is now projecting a basic cost of $13 billion over five years as it launches a government-administered dental insurance program.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a House of Commons address after tabling her budget that by the end of 2023 the government “will begin rolling out a dental care plan for what will eventually be up to nine million uninsured Canadians.”

She viewed a dental program as a necessary expansion of health care.

A temporary dental benefit provided for uninsured children under age 12 in families with household incomes of less than $90,000 is going to be scrapped by June 2024.

Dr. Lynn Tomkins, president of Canada’s Dental Association, had warned the government how preliminary cost estimates were likely “light,” especially given costs associated with private dental insurance.

“We could tell that the amount that they proposed — which we were happy to see — wasn’t going to be sufficient if they expected another nine million Canadians to be able to get in to see the dentist,” she said.

Advertisement 6

Article content

The Parliamentary Budget Officer had warned the federal government months ago its estimates likely would fall short. The PBO suggested setting aside $9 billion over a five-year period instead of the $5.3 billion budgeted. Seems even that estimate was too low.

Question two is administering the dental program.

Our eye care professionals fought with the provincial government for several years over a fee schedule that would at least cover operational costs. Dentists may face the same challenge because I suspect given how health care is also provincial, that over time the federal government may shift day-to-day administration to the provinces.

Like many things, the national dental care concept seems appealing. But the devil may yet emerge in the details of delivery.

Lloyd Brown-John is a University of Windsor professor emeritus of political science. He can be reached at [email protected].

Article content


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation