Oral health in Canada compared to the world

When considering access to oral health care for entire populations, statistics show that Canada has among the best access to oral health care in the world (Table 2). These figures also reveal that all countries face similar challenges with regard to access to oral health for the poorest segments of society, regardless of whether oral health care is publicly or privately delivered.

Table 2: Percentage of population visiting dentist in past year
Poorest Average Richest
1Visits in past 2 years.
2 Visits in past 3 months.
Source: Health at a Glance 2011, OECD Indicators, 2011.
France ¹ 63.9 74.9 82.3
Czech Republic 50.3 71.0 77.8
United Kingdom 58.1 68.8 74.5
Slovak Republic 47.6 68.8 76.3
Canada 46.5 64.6 78.5
Austria 51.6 61.0 70.2
Finland 51.3 58.6 68.5
Belgium 39.8 58.1 69.5
Slovenia 42.6 56.1 64.4
New Zealand 43.8 51.2 59.8
Estonia 31.0 48.0 55.8
Spain 34.5 44.9 57.8
United States 26.2 42.4 56.9
Poland 26.8 42.3 54.6
Hungary 28.1 37.5 50.5
Denmark ² 28.1 35.3 40.0

One key oral health measure for comparative purposes is the decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) index measure. This represents the number of decayed (D), missing due to caries (M) and filled (F) teeth (T). There are no other well-established and universally accepted measures of oral health. The DMFT is usually measured in 12-year-olds and compared internationally. Recent DMFT data from Canada indicate that 38.7% of 12-year-olds had one or more permanent teeth affected by caries and the mean DMFT was 1.02. This measure is better than the OECD average, which was 1.6 in 2006. It also compares favourably with other DMFT scores for 12-year-olds from most OECD countries (Table 3).

The FDI World Dental Federation has developed a comprehensive world health atlas, comparing select oral health indicators. Canada ranks favourably in terms of low DMFT scores (0.0-1.1 DMFT range), low prevalence of severe chronic periodontitis (less than 10% of the population aged 15 and over), moderate incidence of oral and lip cancer (2.5-4.9 per 100,000 people).

Canada also ranks on the low end of the scale in terms of the proportion of the population and of seniors who have no natural teeth, a condition known as edentulism. This is an important measure, since the loss of all natural teeth can lead to changes in eating patterns, nutrient deficiency and involuntary weight loss, as well as speech difficulty (if left uncorrected). In 2010, approximately 6% of the Canadian population aged 20-79 had no teeth and 22% of the population aged 60-79 had no natural teeth.

These findings demonstrate that Canada compares favourably to other similar industrialized OECD countries in terms of the overall oral health of its population. What Canada has in common with every other industrialized country, however, are the challenges faced by the more vulnerable segments of society who, face difficulty accessing appropriate and timely oral health services.

Table 3: 12-year-old DMFT Comparison of OECD countries
Country DMFT 12-year-olds
Source: OECD Health at a Glance
Germany 0.7
United Kingdom 0.7
Sweden 1.0
Canada 1.0
Australia 1.1
Finland 1.2
France 1.2
United States 1.3
OECD Average 1.6
New Zealand 1.6
Norway 1.6
Japan 1.7