Improvement in the Oral Health of Canadians


Dr. Ronald G. Smith

Has the oral health of Canadians improved over the last few decades? This is a question that CDA gets asked on a regular basis, often by members of the media or the government. Until recently this relatively simple question did not have a definitive answer. In fact, during some of CDA's presentations to House of Commons committees, we would have to inform government officials that Canada had not performed a national health survey that included clinical indicators of oral health for almost 30 years!

This has all changed with the publication of results from the oral health component of the Canada Health Measures Survey (CHMS). This national study collected health data from approximately 6000 people in 15 communities randomly selected across Canada between March 2007 and February 2009. The oral health clinical component included a 15-minute oral health examination administered by teams of dentists who were supplied by the Department of National Defence.

CDA has been advocating for the federal government to include oral health indicators in a national health survey since 2001. With the creation of Health Canada's Office of the Chief Dental Officer (OCDO) in 2004, CDA and the OCDO were able to coordinate public education efforts and advocate effectively for the collection of this important oral health information. Our combined advocacy efforts were instrumental in making sure oral health was included in the CHMS.

I invite you to read highlights of the survey's oral health summary report. If we look at a few top-level findings, I believe the results reflect positively on how the dental profession is helping to improve the oral health of Canadians.

The profession's messages on preventive behaviours are having a positive effect, as almost 3 out of every 4 Canadians (73%) indicate they brush their teeth twice a day. In other positive news, two-thirds of Canadians between ages 6 and 79 did not require any dental treatment at the time their examination took place for the survey and 84% of Canadians reported their oral health as "good" or "excellent."

How do these results compare to the past? The last national oral health clinical survey was the 1972 Canada Nutrition Survey. Although some of the indicators were not collected in the same way as the CHMS, the 1972 survey is the best point of comparison on the oral health status of Canadians.

Since that time, edentulism rates have improved significantly, with only 6% of Canadian adults having no teeth compared to 24% in 1972. While the percentage of adults who have at least 1 cavity remains the same between these time periods, the severity has declined from an average of 17.5 decayed, missing or filled teeth in 1972 to 10.7 in 2009.

The CHMS results show that the current oral health care system is working for the majority of Canadians. For instance, nearly 3 out of every 4 Canadians (74%) reported that they have seen a dental professional in the last year. However, there are still some Canadians who are not benefiting from the system. In fact, 17% of Canadians said they did not make an appointment to see a dental professional due to cost, and 16% avoided having all their recommended treatment done, also due to the costs involved.

To address some of these areas of concern, CDA will continue working with the OCDO and other stakeholders to advocate for improved access to care for Canadians. Most recently, CDA has been working with its provincial partners on this issue and has created a new position statement on access to oral health care for Canadians.

The publication of the CHMS results has created a valuable repository of national oral health statistics that can be used for future research activities and to advocate for improved access to care. Overall, this study revealed positive results. We can now state with confidence that the oral health of Canadians has improved over the last 30 years.

Ronald G. Smith, DDS