June 14, 2024

Cool Rabbits

Healthcare Enthusiast

Rollout of new dental plan far from painless

A new $13-billion national dental plan that launched this month has had a rocky start, including a slow uptake by dentists.

In New Brunswick, Dr. Terry Shaw, has signed on to offer his services under the plan. He’s a Perth Andover dentist, who, at 77, says he loves his work.

Shaw said he especially connects with his older patients — the group the new plan is targeted toward.

“I’m in a rural area in Perth Andover and we have a lot of seniors here in the area, and a lot of them are living on fixed incomes — $10,000 to $12,000 pensions — and, you know, dentistry is just out of the picture for them, price-wise,” said Shaw.

“It’s nice when you can look at somebody’s mouth and examine it and not have that limitation of finances looking over your head.”

Perth Andover dentist Dr. Terry Shaw is in favour of the national dental plan.

Perth Andover dentist Dr. Terry Shaw is in favour of the national dental plan.

Perth Andover dentist Dr. Terry Shaw is in favour of the national dental plan. (Submitted by Terry Shaw)

However in some of the province’s larger cities, Shaw says, such as Fredericton and Saint John, appointments are being “booked into September, December for fillings, and everything is just crazy busy.”

Dental insurance for seniors

The Canadian Dental Care Plan, announced in December, will provide low- and middle-income Canadian residents with dental insurance for those who don’t have private coverage.

The national program is supposed to eventually apply to one-quarter of all Canadians, but Ottawa is rolling out eligibility gradually, starting with seniors. An interim dental plan has been covering kids under the age of 12 since December 2022.

Shaw said he thinks the slow uptake in the program among dentists could have something to do with the New Brunswick Dental Society’s advice to wait before registering.

Paul Blanchard, the executive director of the dental society, said this advice was given because the plan follows a somewhat unusual process, and the organization is still meeting regularly with Health Canada about potential changes.

But ultimately, he said the dental society sent a note to members on April 30 to say it was up to them, and they would be provided with materials based on their decision.

Blanchard said there’s a lot of “red tape” and paperwork that falls on the shoulders of the dentist but he said through discussions with Health Canada, some of that is being alleviated.

“The terms and conditions themselves, they used to be a multi-page document, and it’s now down to two pages,” said Blanchard. “So it seems like there’s some progress that’s being made.”

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Dental Society, said the board considered and rejected making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for its members.

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Dental Society, said the board considered and rejected making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for its members.

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Dental Society, said the society has been meeting with Health Canada about proposed changes to the dental plan. (Submitted by the N.B. Dental Society)

As of July 8, providers will be able to direct-bill Sun Life — the insurance company managing the program — for services provided on a claim-by-claim basis, without formally signing up for the federal plan, according to the Government of Canada’s website.

Oral-health provider shortage

Blanchard said another issue in New Brunswick is the significant shortage of dental assistants and hygienists and the aging population of dentists.

“[That issue] doesn’t have much to do with the department, I guess, or the minister, but it is a barrier to implementation of the program,” he said.

Blanchard said there are roughly 365 licensed dentists in the province and approximately 600 dental assistants, but in terms of ratios to patients, he said New Brunswick’s is one of the worst in the country.

6-month wait, at least

Shaw agrees, saying that a lot of practices have closed, or at least are not taking on new patients. In his case, he and his associate “had 1,200 new patients last year. That’s about 5 new patients a day.”

He said he has patients coming from far away because of the lack of available dental care.

And Blanchard said it is typical to have to wait about six months to get an appointment because of staff availability.

Blanchard said after meeting with the federal health minister on Wednesday, the society has been given about a week to provide feedback on some of the proposed changes to the plan’s terms and conditions, which he said they will do.

“We’re going to continue to provide advice to our members, right, but at the end of the day, you know, dentists are free to enrol or participate in the program as they wish,” he said.

“But we are consulting with the government and trying to make improvements.”