‘This is amazing’: Vancouver dentist likes new federal program, but questions remain

Dr. Hussein Shivji believes dental care is health care, so the owner of Asante Dental Centers has never understood why it’s not included in Canada’s universal health-care coverage. And for those without private insurance, visiting the dentist can be very pricey.

“It is really tough, especially with inflation the way it is right now,” Hussein said from his Vancouver dental clinic.

So the long-time dentist is thrilled the federal government will begin offering dental coverage to families earning less than $90,000 a year, with no co-pays for those making less than $70,000. The program starts later this year with coverage for children under 12.

“This is amazing. That exactly the demographic they need to go after first,” said Hussein. “Having that piece of mind for parents, they can actually take their kids to see the dentist without having to forgo some other expense they need in their lives. Kids will have access to care that might not have had that access.”

Dr. Wendy Gaudet, the owner and manager of Wave Dentistry in Surrey, also runs a non-profit that provides free mobile dental care to low-income children at their schools.

She said, “I’m always going to advocate for better oral health services and coverage for people that are from low income families. I think that is absolutely necessary.”

But Gaudet worries the new federal program may operate like similar provincial ones, where the government only pays 30 to 50 per cent of what an insurance company would for the same procedure.

“So what actually happens is people in these programs, when they try to access and get dentistry from private clinics, the dentists actually don’t accept them as clients because they get paid below the fee guide,” said Gaudet.

So she’s urging the federal government to pay the same dental fees that insurance companies and those without coverage do, to ensure people in the new program have no difficulty finding a provider.

“We want to definitely have equality and equal access to the same level and type of oral health care, no matter whether they are low income or high income,” Gaudet said.

Under the agreement between the federal Liberals and the NDP, the new dental care program will expand to children under 18, seniors and people living with a disability next year, and will include all low- to middle-income families by 2025.

Hussein says it’s been a long time coming, adding “I think this is going to make a big difference in terms of everyone’s overall health.”

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