Public sector dental expenditures are mainly directed to children, seniors, eligible indigenous people and the disabled. As part of a trust and supply agreement with the NDP to avoid elections until 2025, Liberals pledged to launch a federal dental care program for low- and middle-income children before the end of the year and aimed to expand their eligibility for the coming years. The federal government covers part or all of the costs of oral health care for eligible veterans, refugees and Indigenous people, and each province recognizes that some dental care is medically necessary and directs oral health care resources to marginalized groups, using different forms and a variety of social service benefits. With the new budget with some dental care policies, it seems that the Canadian government is starting to see teeth as part of the human body.
However, the distribution of dentists varies widely by province (Figure) and the proportion has generally been declining over time, meaning that there is an increasing number of dentists relative to the population and suggesting greater overall availability of oral health care. As the meetings were taking place, British Columbia's Ministry of Health suggested in a statement that the province wants to address the current healthcare crisis before discussing new services. However, rural and remote areas of Canada have proportionately fewer dentists than urban areas, making access to oral care in these regions more difficult. Still, he said Alberta would rather use federal dollars to fund its own dental care programs rather than risk duplicating efforts with the federal government.
Drawing a parallel between the promised dental program and child care agreements across the country, Freeland said it can sometimes take longer than planned to implement government initiatives. While the Canadian health care system and health service plans provide coverage for virtually all healthcare costs of doctors and hospitals, most of the responsibility for planning and delivering health care lies with the provinces and territories. However, in many provinces dental care is unlikely to be a priority given the state of health care in general, said Charles Breton, executive director of the Canadian Federation Center of Excellence at the Public Policy Research Institute. In this table, for illustrative purposes, private insurance refers to all sources of private insurance, including employment-related and non-employment-related dental coverage.
When asked about the concerns expressed by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh about the government's ability to introduce the dental program, Freeland said it was one of the government's promises in its latest budget. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says he is confident that the federal government will be able to establish its proposed dental care program by the end of the year, although his department has not yet decided on a model or begun formal talks with the provinces. Funding sources for dental care services in Canada (and their relative proportions) can be seen in Figure 2.While healthcare is often considered provincial jurisdiction, Davies said it is a shared jurisdiction with the federal government and downplayed the possibility of a province objecting to the plan on jurisdictional grounds.