June 16, 2024


Define Beauty Yourself

Calgary dentists, hygienists urge more families to tap into federal dental benefit

Denise Kokaram says as a dental hygienist she still mourns every tooth her patients lose, particularly children whose dental health is so poor they’re losing their adult molars.

“Unfortunately, we see it all too often and it’s especially disturbing when we see a child [lose an adult molar], particularly a six- or seven-year-old child, that’s particularly distressing.”

So Kokaram and other hygienists and dentists are trying to raise awareness of a federal program that they believe could help prevent tooth decay, disease and tooth loss in young patients.

“You know, an ounce of prevention, we know that that’s going to go a long ways to setting these children up to a lifetime of well-being,” she said.

The Canada Dental Benefit was brought in last year to provide up to $1,300 over two years for uninsured children to receive treatment.

The amount of the benefit is based on a family’s net income, which must be less than $90,000 per year. 

Depending on a family’s net income, a tax-free payment of $260, $390, or $650 is available for each eligible child.

To get the benefit, parents and guardians have to attest that their child does not have access to private dental care coverage and that they will use the benefit to pay for dental services.

The program is now accepting the second round of applications for dental work done between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024.

Anchita Maji, 11, is getting her teeth checked by a dental hygienist.
Anchita Maji, 11, gets a dental checkup. Her family will try to access the Canada Dental Benefit, which covers up to $1,300 per child under the age of 12 over a two-year period. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Canada Revenue Agency says 315,000 children accessed the benefit to the end of June, leaving nearly 200,000 eligible children whose families did not access the benefit.

Health Canada says nine million Canadians of all ages don’t have dental insurance.

A Calgary pediatric dentist says it’s sad to know that some children go to bed each night in pain from sore, decaying teeth. He regularly sees school-aged children who have never been to a dentist.

Pictured is Dr. Peeyush Ranjan, a pediatric dentist in Calgary.
Dr. Peeyush Ranjan, a pediatric dentist, says some school-aged children who have never been to a dentist already have “full mouth decay.” (Monty Kruger/CBC)

“It’s overwhelming. We see lots of full mouth decay and … it’s very hard on those kids to get work done, so several times we have to put [them] under general anesthesia,” said Dr. Peeyush Ranjan.

And he says it’s not uncommon for children even to be sent to hospital for dental treatment under general anesthesia.

Improve access

Applications for the dental benefit can be done through a CRA account or by phone or online. But the Alberta Dental Association (ADA) says it can be tricky to navigate for new Canadians or people who don’t have access to a computer.

“Everything is a bit of a learning experience and I think it’s really important that these people are educated and the government helps them kind of weed through the process to get these care packages,” said ADA president Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky. 

He encourages families to access the benefit.

“The preventive part of this package is the real important part because if we can prevent disease, we don’t have to be treating it.”

Pictured is Denise Kokaram, COO of Nation's Dental.
Denise Kokaram, COO of Nation’s Dental, says the company is a “social entrepreneurial model” that charges patients less than the Alberta dental fee guide. She says profits are reinvested to help support patients who can’t afford dental services. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Debashish Maji, whose two daughters are young enough to qualify for the benefit, says he’s going to look into the program.

“It’s really important to have the better hygiene and it keeps [them] healthy.”

Kokaram, who is the chief operating officer of Nation’s Dental, says it’s her goal to help low and middle income Canadians access the benefit. She says it’s critical to catch any dental problems early.

“Many of these kids, by the time we see them, it’s years later and at that point, saving the tooth in a lot of cases is not necessarily possible. And that’s really sad for me because it sets them up for a whole set of other oral health issues as well as systemic health issues that they will have later in life.”

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.