Dental care should be included in Medicare

New report finds that poor and marginalized groups do not get necessary dental care due to cost. 

Ottawa (17 Sept. 2014) — A new report from the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences has found that at least six million people a year avoid getting dental care because of the cost. Most of these people will see their dental problems worsen without treatment.

Canadians spend almost $12 billion on dental care, yet many poor and working families do not have access due to cost
The report  Improving Access To Oral Health Care for Vulnerable People Living in Canada also found that Canadians spend almost $12 billion annually on dental services. However, many poor and working families are unable to access dental care.

The report also notes that Canada spends only 6 per cent of total spending on dental care making it one of the lowest rates of publicly funded dental care in the world.  The U.S. spends a higher public share, at 7.9 per cent, on dental services. A number of European countries include dental care in their universal health programs.

Calls for inclusion of dental care into medicare system

James Clancy, National President of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), sees the report as lending support to the union's call that dental services be added to Canada's Medicare system.

"It is amazing that for some reason we don't consider dental care as an integral part of our health care system," said Clancy.  "For some reason dental problems are not considered health concerns. Yet we know that many medical conditions are caused by poor dental health. Also, conditions that would be treated under Medicare when occurring anywhere else on the body go uncovered when occurring in your mouth."

System is not working
According to the report, "Many low income, and even middle income, Canadians suffer from pain, discomfort, disability, and loss of opportunity because of poor oral health."

It also says that "in a wealthy country with explicit policy goals of reasonable access to health care as part of the Canada Health Act, these inequalities and the resulting inequity should be a matter of national concern."

Dr. Paul Allison, dean of the faculty of dentistry at McGill University and chair of the panel that drafted the report, said in an interview that “The system is really not working and it’s only going to get worse unless we act.”

The private system is the problem
Most dental care in the country is privately funded. This is usually either through an employer-based insurance plan or through people paying out of pocket. But as the population ages and the economy changes the number of people covered under insurance plans is declining.  
While the panel's report does not call for dental care to be added to the Medicare system, saying that is unrealistic in the current economic and political environment, others see it inclusion as the best possible solution.

"There is already so much money being spent, both public money and private, on dental care that bringing it all under Medicare just makes common sense. Everyone would be covered and we would likely see significant benefits to the economy," said Clancy. "It is an idea whose time has come."

More information:


More Public Investment in Dental Care and Oral Health Promotion


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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