Dentists need to be at the table to make sure the program works, says Dr. Carlascio
Dentists are reacting with cautious optimism to the federal government’s plan to help low- and middle-income families pay for their children’s dental care.
If passed, Bill C-31 — introduced Sept. 20 — would give eligible families with children under 12 up to $650 per child each year to pay for dental services, according to the their household income.
The bill would create a new Canadian Dental Care Plan.
“This is good news for patients who will be covered by this bill,” Sault dentist Dr. Dante Carlascio said, speaking to SooToday.
“Overall, this is good news for all of Canada because it’s good to see dental care getting national attention. This hasn’t really happened before.
The new CDCP would provide dental care to approximately 500,000 children up to age 12 at a cost of nearly $1 billion.
The government’s goal is to expand the CDCP to include those under 18 by next year and all eligible Canadians by the end of 2025.
“The general consensus among dentists is that it is important for the federal government to have dentists around the table to create an appropriate plan that will work over the long term. We just want to make sure dentists have a say in how this program is created because we are the ones who are actually treating the patients,” Carlascio said.
“The Ontario Dental Association hasn’t really been consulted,” Carlascio said, expressing concern over what has happened in the past with dental care for seniors.
“In Ontario for the past few years there has been a dental program for low-income seniors, primarily for extractions and dentures, but it’s not in the regular dental office. You have to go through the health office. The ODA was not consulted prior to the creation of this program and what has happened is that there are approximately 100,000 eligible seniors in Ontario but only a fraction has been processed and there has waiting lists, in several areas, of well over a year.
“It’s not through the usual dental offices. People must apply through regional public health offices. In this case, it would go through Algoma Public Health and you would be seen by a local dentist who has a contract there, but they are only there part time and there are only certain services covered by that,” Carlascio said.
“So if you don’t consult with the ODA or any other provincial group, you could end up with a program that is quite inefficient and ineffective.”
Under the proposed federal dental plan, families with annual incomes below $70,000 may be eligible for dental coverage of $650 per year for children under 12 for the next two years.
Families with income between $70,000 and $79,000 will be able to qualify for $390 per child per year for the next two years.
Families with incomes between $80,000 and $89,000 could receive $260 per child per year for the next two years.
However, the Ontario Dental Association said in a statement that “the ODA has heard from patients considering delaying dental treatment or canceling their benefits in the hope that their costs will be covered by the CDCP. . It’s not a good idea.”
“There are more questions than answers at this point.”
“We still don’t know how it will be administered, what services will be covered, or how it will work with Ontario’s existing dental programs — all of which are massively underfunded,” the ODA said as the group and other provincial dental associations want to work with the federal government on the details of the operation of the CDCP.
For the proposed federal program, Carlascio said “you have to go through a lot of steps, saying ‘I don’t have any other type of coverage, no private coverage.’
Parents or guardians would apply through the Canada Revenue Agency and prove that their child does not have access to private dental coverage and will use government funding to pay for dental services .
They will have to prove that they have a child aged 12 and under and that the family income complies with the rules. Parents should also provide the government with information from their employer.
Families using the program should also provide the federal government with the name and date of the dentist’s appointment and keep their dental bills in case the government asks them to verify that the appointment actually took place.
Families who give false information, do not provide receipts or do not use the money for dental treatment risk a heavy fine.
Meanwhile, Carlascio said the proposed CDCP and its $650 per child each year is a good first step and should cover two cleanings and two fillings.
“For routine dental care, yes. That should pretty much cover most of that. But the costs can increase if there are several cavities to be repaired or teeth to be extracted. It depends on the degree of dental work needed.
“We don’t know what will be included in coverage over the next five years. There are a lot of unknowns, but as long as they keep dentists at the table, I feel like it could be a really good thing,” Carlascio said.
“Nobody deserves to have a toothache, especially children. Improving access to care should make a huge difference. I hope we can treat dental problems in children sooner.
“Research shows that with many public health programs, if properly funded, more eligible people will get the care they need. It is important that the most vulnerable people in our community receive regular dental care. It’s necessary. They deserve it. They just need access,” Carlascio said.