Dental care in Canada is delivered primarily by a network of 16,000 private dental offices and is funded almost exclusively through private funding, mostly employer-provided benefits. This model achieves oral health outcomes for most Canadians that compare favourably with other high-income nations. However, there are still some gaps in dental coverage and barriers to access to care for some Canadians, particularly those from more vulnerable populations such as seniors, children, low-income families, Indigenous Peoples, racialized individuals and persons living with disabilities.
The federal government’s 2022 commitment to invest in access to dental care is an historic opportunity to close these gaps to help all Canadians achieve better oral health. The Canadian Dental Association (CDA), as well as provincial and territorial dental associations across the country and other key oral health stakeholders, have long advocated for the government to invest in dental care for these groups. CDA is pleased that the federal government has responded with a clear financial commitment to address these gaps.
This paper proposes that in tandem with investment in access to care, the federal government should develop a comprehensive federal oral health strategy that addresses a broader set of challenges facing Canadians in achieving optimal oral health. This paper also includes principle-informed recommendations for the federal government about how its investment in dental care can best serve those who need it most.
The Canadians who currently lack adequate access to dental care have diverse and sometimes complex oral health needs. An effective program needs to be flexible enough to meet these varied needs. Thus, the guiding principles are that any federally funded dental care program or oral health initiative should be designed to:
The recommendations in this paper build upon these principles and are intended to leverage the knowledge and expertise of the dental profession. The paper provides a roadmap for the federal government to create a sustainable and effective program that will provide high-quality oral health care to those who need it most, without negatively impacting the current oral health care ecosystem (including employer-provided benefits) on which most Canadians rely.
Our recommendations fall into categories related to providing a broad and collaborative strategy to address both financial and non-financial barriers to dental care, envisioning an effective and sustainable model for federal investment in dental care; program delivery and administration; and consideration of challenges to oral health care in Canada.