Publicly financed oral health programs in Canada

Oral health services

In Canada, dental care is largely a publicly uninsured service. In some cases, however, if care is received in-hospital or the patient belongs to a particular institutionalized and/or at-risk population, dental services may be publicly insured.

Federal public oral health programs

Dental services spending in the public sector in Canada was estimated at $846 million in 2015. This includes $542 million in the provincial government sector (federal transfers included), $295 million in the federal direct government sector and the remainder in municipal government and social security funds.

Dental services that are financed by the federal government are available to:

  • Military personnel,
  • Those with recognized indigenous status,
  • Veterans,
  • Federal prisoners,
  • Refugees,
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' remedy for oral health for vulnerable groups across Canada.

In 2013-2014, approximately $277 million was spent on federal public dental care expenditures (not including Department of National Defence figures).

Of the $246 million in expenditures by Health Canada:

  • $231 million (94% of total) was spent on the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program,
  • $7 million (3% of total) was spent on the Children's Oral Health Initiative,
  • $9 million (3% of total) was spent on the Dental Therapy Program.

According to a comprehensive environmental scan of publicly financed dental care in Canada prepared by the Public Health Agency of Canada, "these expenditures by Health Canada primarily target one of Canada's most high-risk group for oral health, namely, First Nations and Inuit populations, particularly children. Despite the large sums of money spent annually for this group, large disparities continue to exist. Access to care is an issue due to both the long distances these people must travel to reach dental clinics, as well as a shortage of providers willing to work in these communities. In addition, First Nations and Inuit populations are increasing at a higher rate than the rest of the Canadian population, therefore, considerable changes are needed in order to decrease the disparities."

A survey of Canada's Indigenous population confirmed that the burden of oral health conditions across all areas of Canada's North (except Nunavik) is much worse than the general population.