The Canadian Dental Care Plan starts next month — but many dentists are reluctant to participate

The Canada Dental Care Plan (CDCP) is set to start offering coverage next month, but it's unclear whether enough dentists will sign up to provide care for the 1.6 million seniors already enrolled.

Health Canada would not provide CBC News with figures on how many oral health providers have registered with the CDCP since applications opened on March 11.

According to the national association, there are approximately 26,500 dentists, 1,700 independent hygienists and 2,400 denturists in Canada, for a total of 30,500.

“I've heard that registration is slow,” said Dr. Heather Carr, president of the Canadian Dental Association. “I don’t think this program is as successful as we would like it to be.”

The $13 billion Canada Dental Care Plan, announced in December, will provide dental coverage to low- and moderate-income Canadian residents without private insurance.

The national program will eventually be available to one in four Canadians, but Ottawa is rolling out eligibility gradually, starting with seniors. (As of December 2022, the temporary dental plan has been covering children under 12 years of age.)

Seniors learn their dentists are not attending

Some seniors who were approved for coverage found that their dentists didn't.

“I'm angry. I really am,” said Karen Trimingham, 82, who lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where she has been seeing the same dentist for 16 years. years. “I don't think they're going to turn me down because I'm a regular.”

Trimingham said she didn't want to drive several hours from a rural community to another city to find a dentist enrolled in the program.

“I have to keep paying. I'll go to the dentist for minimal treatment,” she said. “Instead of replacing this tooth that I lost a few months ago, I'm going to follow the gap.”

WATCH | Seniors discover their dentists don't offer treatment options:

Not enough dentists join the National Dental Care Scheme

About 1.6 million Canadian seniors sign up for the National Dental Care Plan, but only a few thousand dentists agree to participate. That could force seniors to scramble to find a new dentist who participates in the program.

Victoria senior Joanne Thibault, 68, said her dentist would not be attending either.

“The federal government came out and announced a dental plan, but they didn't do their homework and put the plan in place so that my dentist could participate, and that really pissed me off,” she said.

“I'm not giving up on my dentist. I just hope the federal government does their job and works with them to resolve this issue so she can do her job.”

Association president won't contract with own clinic

Canadian dentists, hygienists and denturists generally support the idea of ​​a national public dental care program, which they say would help provide basic oral care to those who need it most who would otherwise have to pay out of pocket.

But the presidents of some provincial dental associations – who are practicing dentists themselves – told CBC News they have no plans to offer the program at their dental offices.

They say Ottawa still hasn't provided enough details for a plan to start in a few weeks.

They also said they were upset that Ottawa required them to sign a contract to join the program, something no other public or private program requires.

“Patients should have the autonomy and right to choose their own dentist,” said Dr. Jenny Doerksen, president of the Alberta Dental Association.

“But unlike other dental plans, this federal program requires dentists to sign a seven-page contract with many unknowns and unnecessary terms and conditions.”

A dental hygienist cleans the mouth of an older adult, her tools shown in the foreground.
Canadian dentists, hygienists and denturists advocate for a Canada-wide public dental insurance program. But dentists say they are unwilling to sign a contract with Ottawa without knowing the full details of the plan. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Dental care providers say they are also concerned about imposing large amounts of new paperwork on already overburdened administrative staff.

“My staff told me in no uncertain terms that they did not want to implement the program because they could not handle the additional burden that would come with it,” said Dr. Rob Wolanski, president of the British Columbia Dental Association.

CDCP is modeled after the Non-Insured Health Benefit, a federal program that provides dental care to Canada’s First Nations and Inuit people.

“This program has been criticized for years by patients, the patient community and health care providers,” said Dr. Daron Baxter, president of the Manitoba Dental Association.

“One of the main reasons is that heavy administrative burdens often lead to delays in care delivery.”

Dentists still don't know how the CDC will coordinate with other programs offered by provinces and territories.

last minute consultation

Provincial dental associations say Ottawa only began consulting with them in November, a month before the plan was announced.

“Dentists were called in at the 11th hour,” said Dr. Brock Nicolucci, president of the Ontario Dental Association.

“Why did we start so late, and did we rush into a plan that maybe we should have put the brakes on?”

WATCH | Dentists express concerns over federal dental care rollout:

Dentists express concerns over federal dental care rollout

Heather Carr, president of the Canadian Dental Association, said her colleagues are “hopeful” that the new federal dental care plan will provide better care for more Canadians, but its rollout has created “a huge amount of uncertainty for dentists and patients.” confusion and complications”.

They said the federal government also initially promoted the program as “free” dental care, but that was not the case.

The plan only covers certain types of dental work and pays dental health care providers less than what is recommended by provincial and territorial guidelines issued by dental associations. Dentists say they still don't know how much the federal government will provide them with for their care. These amounts change annually; 2024 CDCP guidance has not yet been released.

There are also substantial deductibles for those with a net household income between $70,000 and $90,000.

This means that most patients will still receive a bill after visiting the dentist.

A man in a blue suit and red tie stands in front of a sign that reads "Dental Care Plan."
Health Minister Mark Holland listened to questions following the announcement of the national public dental insurance scheme in December. Holland said another option is being studied to make it easier for dentists to participate. (Adrian Wild/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Mark Holland suggested Ottawa might refine the agreement to attract more dental care providers to join.

“We are actively working to create an alternative portal that allows dentists to be directly involved. When a patient comes to them, they can just enter the information and be able to make that request,” Holland told reporters during the meeting. .

Holland compared the CDC to the introduction of universal health care in Canada, which he said also presented challenges.

“There's a lot of fear, it's a new project, I understand,” Holland said.

“But conversation after conversation, it's been evolving very positively and I believe we're going to have a very strong uptake.”

Do you have questions about how Canada’s new dental care plan might affect you? Send an email to

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