The dental profession delivers a high level of oral health care to the vast majority of Canadians. Recently, the 2007-09 Canadian Health Measures Survey showed that 84% of Canadians reported having good or excellent oral health. This is a worthy achievement, but the dental profession must acknowledge that many Canadians do not have access to oral health care. The barriers encompass socio-economic, geographic and cultural factors, as well as institutional challenges. And yet despite these great needs, Canada does not have a comprehensive national oral health care strategy.
As a profession, dentistry has been given the privilege of self-regulation. In accepting this privilege, our profession also acknowledges a debt to society: a responsibility to ensure that all Canadians can receive the oral health care they need. For many years,
CDA has publicly stated that the profession must address the future of oral health care delivery in Canada; if it does not, others will develop solutions without us—solutions which may not be in the best interests of either the dental profession or the oral health of Canadians.
CDA’s current initiatives on access to care are led by the CDA National Coordinating Working Group on Access to Care. This working group focuses on preventing early childhood caries, including the promotion of a first visit to the dentist by age 1, and seniors’ oral health, with the goal of establishing national oral health care standards for residents of long-term care facilities. Other organizations are also working to improve access to oral health care. But the resulting mix of programs do not share common principles or a strategic approach to the issues.
In Canada, delivery of health care is a provincial responsibility. The federal government has limited involvement in oral health care, mainly through programs aimed at First Nations Canadians and veterans. The unique system of Canadian health care governance makes it very difficult for any level of government to develop a comprehensive national strategy and action plan for the effective delivery of oral health care. The 2005-10 Canadian Oral Health Strategy developed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Dental Working Group identifies system needs and gaps—but falls short of defining an action plan.
As leaders in oral health care delivery, the dental profession is uniquely positioned to address the complex issue of access to care in Canada. CDA is committed to developing a national oral health strategy through a collaborative and cross-disciplinary process that includes representation from oral health care providers, academia, the dental industry, government, other health professions and the public.
The first step in this process is already well underway. A research phase, funded by CDA, involves the collection and analysis of all data relevant to oral health care access in Canada. The research findings will provide a foundation for a broad dialogue that will take place at a CDA-organized national symposium planned for February 2014 in Ottawa. All those involved in, or affected by, a Canadian oral health strategy will be invited to participate at the symposium and collectively contribute to a blueprint that will define an action plan. Once finalized, CDA will take the lead in coordinating its implementation.
It is my hope that the new strategy will provide clear direction for the delivery of safe, effective oral health care to all Canadians. It’s up to the dental profession to lead the way towards the goal of providing all Canadians with access to the oral health care they deserve.