The gap in Canada’s healthcare system: a case for universal dental care
Canadians are proud of their healthcare system.
Yet, despite the fact that oral health is a significant component of overall health (Mayo Clinic, 2017), Canada’s universal Medicare system does not include the provision of dental care to all Canadians. Dental care in Canada is, for a majority of the population, an individual responsibility.
As of 2015, 56.2% of Canadians used private insurance to access dental care, and 6.2% of Canadians (largely falling into one of the following categories: Indigenous, low-income, refugee, military, RCMP etc) had access to government-subsidised dental care.
Unfortunately, 37.5% of Canadians—who did not have the luxury of employment with benefits/affordable insurance, but were not sufficiently impoverished to receive government assistance—had to pay out of pocket for any dental care they received (Dental Health, 2015). This cannot be taken lightly, as a 2018 Statistics Canada report shows that Canadians without dental care insurance are three times less likely to see a dental professional compared to their insured counterparts.
Moreover, most Canadians with dental insurance receive it via their employer (Statistics Canada, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the precariousness of tying something as important as health/dental coverage to employment—many Canadians experienced job losses due to the pandemic (Sherman, 2021), and consequently their ability to pay for the dentist.
This is problematic because the consequences of a lack of dental care are not at all miniscule. Even beyond the well-known causal links between poor oral health and chronic diseases (Mayo Clinic, 2017), a lack of dental care directly burdens the healthcare system. Specifically, when dental pain becomes unbearable—as it often does, since dental problems usually only worsen with time (Mayo Clinic, 2017)—uninsured Canadians often find themselves in the emergency department of a taxpayer-funded hospital. Medical doctors can rarely do more than prescribe antibiotics or painkillers, but the ER visits allowing for these “band-aid” solutions cost the Canadian healthcare system roughly $31 million each year (McDiarmid, 2019). Arguably, a lack of dental care also conflicts with the pride Canadians take in their belief that healthcare should be universal.
Despite the robust rationale for a universal dental care plan from a health standpoint, there is currently little data on the general opinions in regards to such a policy. So far, only the New Democratic Party of Canada have expressed interest in pursuing universal dental care, and they initiated cost estimates as well (Sourang, 2020). So, an important next step might be to gather information about the public interest in regards to universal dental care, and to increase the dialogue surrounding its importance.
There is bound to be hesitancy, as there was during the efforts to enact universal healthcare in Saskatchewan in the 1960s. However, eventually this policy was passed, and Saskatchewan set a precedent for universal healthcare which has formed into the Canadian Medicare system (Bryant, 2009). Of course, it has since proven to be valuable for millions of people.
For the reasons described above, a universal dental care policy is in the interest of the overall health and wellbeing of a significant portion of Canadians.
We are TorontoTooth, a non-profit organization supported by York University's Calumet and Stong Colleges as an Agents of Change project. We are aiming to improve the health of the homeless community in Toronto by providing free oral hygiene supplies to shelters across Toronto. In doing so, we are helping to raise awareness about income-related inequalities and inequities.
TorontoTooth is an apolitical student organization not affiliated with any specific political institutions.
We need your help. Did you know that a donation of just $10 will provide four youth with a dental hygiene kit? Even a single dollar will make a difference. Please click on the link below to make a difference today.
Bryant, T. (2009) Chapter 6: Overview of the Canadian Healthcare System. An Introduction
to Health Policy. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press Inc.
Dental Health Services in Canada (2015). The State of Oral Health. (n.d.). Retrieved
December 1, 2021, from https://www.cda-adc.ca/stateoforalhealth/servicescanada/.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, July 19). Cavities/Tooth
Decay. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from
McDiarmid, C. (2019, September 16). This is a health fact sheet about oral care habits, visits
to dental professionals, dental insurance, and cost barriers for the Canadian
population aged 12 and older. the results shown are based on data from the Canadian
Community Health Survey. Dental Care, 2018. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from
Sherman, J. (2021, May 11). These Ontario experts are calling for Universal Dental Care.
TVO.org. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://www.tvo.org/article/these-ontario-e
Sourang, D. (2020, October 7). Cost estimate of a Federal Dental Care Program ... - PBO-
DPB. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https://www.pbo-