February 23, 2024

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Alberta dentists raise concerns about new federal dental benefit

The new Canada Dental Benefit program designed to help low-income families has already helped approximately 100,000 children since it started at the beginning of the month. But some Alberta dentists say they’re concerned about the low uptake at their offices.

The interim Canada Dental Benefit is intended to help lower dental costs for families earning less than $90,000 per year. Parents can apply if their child is under 12 years old and does not have access to a private dental insurance plan.

“The response has been a little bit lacklustre,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ma, who works at Friends and Family Dental Health in southeast Calgary.

“I think it’s a fantastic program, but the awareness just isn’t there yet.”

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Ma said the lack of response is likely due to the combination of a lack of awareness and people being concerned with the eligibility requirements.

“I think right now, people are a little bit confused about what the program covers,” he said.

“There’s not enough awareness yet, so I would really love to see the government simplify the program and have it extended to cover all children.”

Ma said the program will save money in the long run and is a step in the right direction, but he believes it doesn’t go far enough yet.

“We are seeing families here that really care about their children’s dental health, but their finances don’t necessarily allow it — even if they have private dental insurance,” he said.

“So sometimes they might not meet the criteria, but they sure would benefit from having what this program can offer.”

Bruce Yaholnitsky is a periodontist and spokesperson for the Alberta Dental Association.

“I think the challenge will be getting this population to enter the program,” he said.

Yaholnitsky said parents need to set up an account with the Canada Revenue Agency, pay up front for the services, and money will be transferred to their account.

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“There is some accountability,” he said. “The government will be checking randomly on these patients to make sure they’ve been using it for dental care. But it’s money that goes into the account and the dentist themselves will not know if these patients are on the plan because they are paying cash.

“The government knows but the dental office won’t know.”

Yaholnitsky said dentists have talked about other ways to provide assistance to low-income Canadians.

“One of the ideas that was thrown out was the use of a card like a debit card, where you have so much cash on and it can just be used for dental,” he said. “I thought that was a great idea.

“The concern always is we don’t want these funds tied up in administration costs, and not getting to the bottom line where the patient needs dental needs.”

Dr. Brad Krusky is a Calgary pediatric dentist. He said the new program requires parents to go through a significant process to get their kids signed up.

“I think we all would have been comfortable if they just would have added funding to the provincial programs and increase the poverty levels, so that we would be able to have more kids from families who have a little bit more income than the current level, but are still not able to afford the care,” he said.

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“If the funds were not directed at the individual families themselves, but rather injected into the system that already exists, especially provincially, I think we’d be able to do a lot better.”

Krusky said the federal program is a step in the right direction but added that preventative care is still the best option.

“I would invest in prevention right now much more than I would invest billions of dollars that are going into this program,” he said.

On Friday, the CRA issued a statement to Global News regarding the matter.

“This is the first stage of the government’s plan to improve dental care for Canadians in families with an adjusted net income under $90,000,” the CRA said. “It allows children under 12 who do not have access to private dental care insurance to get the dental care they need while the government develops a comprehensive, long-term national dental care program.”

The program will be phased in over three years. Around 6.3 million Canadians are expected to be eligible once it is fully implemented

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