Dangerous Cavities: Kids need preventative oral care

Oral health coverage for kids, particularly kids from lower-income families, is something that the CCPA and others have been advocating for.  It is an area just outside of the present universal provincial health care coverage. However, when things go wrong it rapidly becomes something that health care folks and not dentists are tasked with dealing with.

A paediatrician here in Ottawa has just come out with a great overview and case for better publicly funded preventive oral care in Canada, particularly for children from low-income families.

I was astonished to learn that the most common paediatric surgery performed on preschool children in Canada is for cavities gone horribly wrong. Most, if not all of these dental problems, were not preventively treated through a visit to a dentist. Instead, they became so bad that they necessitated surgery under general anaesthetic and heavy doses of antibiotics. From the perspective of a paediatrician, this use of resources is ridiculous given that simply filling those cavities six month earlier would have prevented the need for surgery and the utilization of a much needed hospital bed.

The lack of a dental coverage is closely linked to socio-economic status, and is largely a problem faced by Canada’s working poor. Those who are on social assistance often have coverage through provincial governments. Most higher income Canadians are covered through private employer-sponsored plans. It is the children from lower-income families whose lack of dental coverage increases their risk of having surgery to deal with badly infected cavities.

Despite Canadians firmly believing that, unlike in the US, medical care should be provided on the basis of need rather than ability to pay—dental care has fallen through the cracks. The consequences are clearly visible to physicians on the front lines: wasted resources and needless suffering because basic preventive dental care is not available for low-income children in Canada.


  1. I recently did a paper on the benfits of eliminating fluoride from the water supply (which is not systemically, but rather topically effective), and using the money that would otherwise be allocated to that activity (over half a million annually in Winnpeg, MB) to providing preventiative dental care for children in Winnipeg’s low-income urban centres. Any thoughts on that?

  2. I’m not really the expert here Andi, more highlighting the important work of others. What I would say is that its unfortunate that this discussion often becomes one of either/or. That is to say we need to bleed one program (fluoration of water) to fund another, preventive dental care for poor children. I’d say that both can be effective and from a policy perspective it makes sense to fund both.

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