National dental care plan set to launch amid lingering questions from N.B. seniors

Canada's $13-billion national dental care plan launches this week, but questions remain for thousands of New Brunswick seniors who qualify for the plan.

Cecil Casista, executive director of the Alliance for the Rights of Seniors and Nursing Home Residents, said some people are confused and don't even know whether to sign up.

She said many seniors were told their dentists would not participate in the program because it was problematic. So while they want to take advantage of the program, they don't want to switch to a new dentist.

They also don’t want to cancel their private insurance amid so much uncertainty — which they must do to qualify for the new plan.

While Casista hopes the rollout will be smoother, she did welcome the report. She said many seniors forego dental care because they can't afford it.

Casista said some seniors don't have enough money left after paying for food and medicine. As a result, she said, some people haven't been to the dentist for years, and some are losing teeth as a result.

Close-up portrait of a smiling woman with short gray hair, red lipstick and gold earrings.
Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Alliance for the Rights of Seniors and Nursing Home Residents, said many seniors are confused about the eligibility requirements for the new state dental care program. (Submitted by Cecil Casista)

Starting this month, the Canada Dental Care Plan announced in December will provide dental coverage to low- and moderate-income Canadian residents without private insurance.

The national program is eventually expected to be available to one in four Canadians, but Ottawa is gradually expanding eligibility, starting with seniors. A temporary dental scheme has been covering children under 12 since December 2022.

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Cost and workload issues are confusing the $13-billion Canada Dental Care Plan, which launched on May 1.

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, 45,572 New Brunswickers were enrolled in the program as of April 23, while 1.8 million people across Canada were enrolled.

According to data compiled by Statistics Canada, 62 per cent of New Brunswickers visited a dental specialist in the past 12 months, the fourth-lowest rate among Canadian provinces.

The data also shows that 31 per cent of New Brunswickers do not have dental insurance. For people over 65, that number jumps to 57%.

Dentists are unwilling to participate

Until recently, dentists had to participate in the program to receive reimbursement for services. On April 17, the government announced that dentists could bill directly to Sun Life, the insurance company that administers the scheme, without having to formally sign up to the scheme.

Until then, only five New Brunswick dentists had registered, said Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Dental Association.

Fredericton dentist Matthew Moore said he has no intention of providing services under the current plan.

The man in the blue shirt smiles directly at the camera.
Matthew Moore is a Fredericton dentist and past president of the New Brunswick Dental Association. He said the new scheme creates more administrative work for dentists but pays them less than the typical cost of treatment. (Submitted by Matthew Moore)

Moore, a former president of the dental association, said dentists should do more work for less. Specifically, it requires more paperwork than other dental plans while earning less money than you currently pay.

He estimated the average New Brunswick dentist would earn 80 to 84 per cent more than usual under the program.

He also said there is no “option for patients to pay up front and get reimbursed directly from Health Canada in the new program. They are putting the burden of administering the program on dental practices.”

Dentists are also concerned about the province's “ability to handle the influx of patients into our clinics,” Moore said.

He says he can't take any more patients, and he's not alone.

“We have a critical shortage of dental assistants, dental hygienists and administrative staff, and that's also a problem if there's an influx of new patients. It's a lot of work for our staff and for our clinics.”

Even before the program began, dentists were already tasked with answering patient questions, Moore said.

“This puts us in a very difficult position because we have to answer questions about a project about which we know very little,” he said.

“There's a lot of misinformation out there. There's a lot of misunderstanding.”

Moore said he wouldn't completely rule out joining the scheme, but only if significant changes are made, including not requiring registration, reducing administrative work for dental offices and paying dentists in full based on an already established fee structure.

“We're not closing the door completely. We just can't participate in the way we are,” Moore said.

Blanchard said the New Brunswick Dental Association warned the federal government in November that the program “must respect provincial fee guidelines to encourage providers to participate in the program.”


The plan only covers certain types of dental work – procedures such as scaling, fillings, root canals and dentures.

According to the government website, if you have existing private dental care insurance, you are not eligible for the new scheme.

In an emailed response Thursday, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada clarified that seniors with private insurance are not eligible, but those who “have dental coverage through a provincial, territorial or federal government social program” Seniors are eligible.

“If you meet All eligibility criteriayour coverage will be coordinated between plans to ensure there are no duplications or gaps in coverage,” the email states.

According to the government website, “If you purchased your current dental insurance privately…you are not eligible to participate in CDCP while that coverage is in effect.” The policy must be canceled before an applicant can be accepted into the new federal program.

The email goes on to list the criteria. Applicants must:

  • Unable to obtain dental insurance.
  • Adjusted household net income is less than $90,000.
  • Become a resident of Canada for tax purposes.
  • Already filed a tax return for the previous year.

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

Households earning between $70,000 and $79,999 must pay 40 per cent out of pocket. For those making between $80,000 and $89,999, the copay jumps to 60%.

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