Dental care providers seek answers amid soft launch of federal dental program

Providers still don’t know how paperwork or payment will roll out

Dental care providers seek answers amid soft launch of federal dental program

Life & Health

By Jonalyn Cueto

Canadian seniors have begun receiving invites to sign up for the federal government’s free dental care. Dental service providers are raising concerns about whether the program will be administratively and financially viable.

“If our questions aren't answered and our concerns aren't addressed, I don't know if dentists are going to want to sign up for this program,” said Dr. Brock Nicolucci, president of the Ontario Dental Association.

Nicolucci noted existing public dental care programs that compensate dentists often require so much paperwork, making the procedures challenging for dental clinics, especially those with a shortage of support and administrative staff.

Ondina Love, CEO of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, said hygienists have been told they can sign up for the program in February and shared dental care providers meet weekly with federal officials to discuss the specifics of the plan.

“We want to make sure that there's a reduced administrative burden, that there's not a heavy reliance on predetermination or pre-authorization,” she said. “The devil is really in the details. That's what the government is working on right now, is finalizing the fee structure and what services are provided.”

Free dental care for Canadians

In December 2023, Health Minister Mark Holland announced the federal government’s $13-billion dental program, saying this will compensate the dentists “fairly.” Nearly nine million Canadians who don’t have access to dental insurance will be able to get coverage under the federal plan.

A CBS News report said Ottawa has signed a $747-million contract with insurance giant Sun Life to help administer the plan.

Holland said the program will follow a model that is like that of a current federal program for non-insured health benefits for First Nations and Inuit, which pays for some health services, including dental, which other provincial and private plans don't cover.

The services to be covered under the Canadian dental care plan include:

  • Preventive services, including scaling (cleaning), polishing, sealants and fluoride
  • Diagnostic services, including examinations and x-rays
  • Restorative services, including fillings
  • Endodontic services, including root canal treatments
  • Prosthodontic services, including complete and partial removable dentures
  • Periodontal services, including deep scaling
  • Oral surgery services, including extractions

Ottawa also has promised $250 million, starting in 2025, for plans to establish an oral access fund that would be used to reduce barriers for vulnerable people accessing dental care.

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