More than a Third of Canadians Skip Dental Visits Due to Costs, Says Statistics Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, speaks with dental hygienist students and patients at Oulton’s Collegein Moncton, N.B., on Friday, March 31, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward)

In a concerning report released by Statistics Canada, over one-third of Canadians have not seen a dentist in the past year. The findings from the 2022 Canadian Community Health Survey highlight the substantial impact of costs on dental care access.

The data reveals a stark correlation between dental insurance coverage and visits to dental professionals. Approximately 35% of respondents lack dental insurance, and nearly one quarter have avoided dental care due to the expense. The report comes at a pivotal moment as the federal government is in the process of establishing a new national dental insurance plan, a significant element in the NDP’s supply-and-confidence agreement with the Liberal government. This plan, with an allocation of $13 billion over the next five years, aims to provide coverage for up to nine million Canadians with family incomes below $90,000, and it is expected to roll out by the end of 2023.

Statistics Canada’s data indicates that private dental insurance is held by just 55% of Canadians through various means, including employers and universities, while a mere 4% benefit from public government-paid plans. Among insured individuals, 76% visited a dental professional in the past year, contrasting sharply with the 51% visitation rate of those without insurance.

Cost barriers have led 40% of uninsured Canadians to forgo dental care. This issue is most pronounced among the lowest income earners, with only half reporting a dental visit in the past year, compared to almost three-quarters in the highest income bracket.

The Canadian Dental Association recommends dental exams every six months to maintain oral health, a guideline challenging to meet for those facing financial constraints.

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In the survey, demographic disparities were also evident. Women were more likely to have received dental care in the last year than men, with percentages at 68 and 62, respectively. Young Canadians, aged 12 to 17, were more diligent in dental visits (79%) compared to those aged 65 and over (60%). Dental insurance coverage is significantly less prevalent among the older population, with only 33% of those over 65 insured, as opposed to 69% of those aged 35 to 49.

Geographic variations also emerged from the survey. Quebec, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador reported lower proportions of dental visits. Additionally, dental insurance was found to be more common in urban areas and outside Quebec.

The survey took note that racialized and non-heterosexual communities reported cost as a more significant barrier to accessing dental care.

Conducted between February and December 2022, the Canadian Community Health Survey offers insights into the dental care services accessed and used by Canadians 12 years and older across provinces.

As Canadians await the implementation of the federal dental care plan, these statistics shed light on the pressing need for affordable dental care across the country.