Improvement in the Oral Health of Canadians

June 1, 2010

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

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

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

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