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'I’d like to die with a nice smile': Senior struggles to access new dental plan

Ontario Dental Association president says changes coming to Canadian Dental Care Plan; 'we are cautiously optimistic that our concerns will be addressed,' he says
Barrie resident Sheila Gardner has raised concerns about Canada's new dental plan for seniors.

One Barrie senior is drilling the federal government on its new dental-care program, which she says falls short.

Sheila Gardner, 67, lives in the city's south end and has been a single mother for many years.

While struggling financially, health and dental care was always about “giving the shirt off your back for your son,” she told BarrieToday. “And so I never really looked after my teeth. I did have a bridge put in when I was a young lady, and just at Easter time one tooth broke off.”

Gardner says she hasn’t dealt with a dentist for years.

“I’ve talked to a few other seniors and they are in the same boat. There are a lot of us that haven’t had the luxury of having a dentist," she said. “So what do I do, just call around?”

Her frustration in navigating the federal government’s new Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP) has been growing in lockstep with her increasing jaw pain.

“At least I have the internet, but what about the seniors that don’t have that? They're probably still using the phone book," Gardner said. "How many hours can you spend on that?”

The plan, which began last December for people 87 and over, has now expanded to include applications from seniors 65 and older as of May 1.

The public dental health-care insurance program is expected to cover 25 per cent of Canadian residents who don't have private dental plans, costing at least $13 billion over the next five years.

Ottawa is gradually rolling out eligibility, starting with seniors. Children under 18 will have access starting in June, with all remaining eligible Canadians expect to start in 2025.

“I’ve read that some dentists are not even accepting it,” Gardner said. “They are not answering the phone because there’s probably a hundred people like me calling them every day.”

Meanwhile, her soreness continues to get worse. She says she just wants to eat a steak again without pain.

“I can’t chew the meat. I don’t even have molars, so I’m using my gums," Gardner said. “The few teeth in my head that I have, they will probably have to be pulled out. I would be better off just getting dentures.”

Gardner says her patience with the bureaucratic system has its limit, and she can only wait so long for the government. 

“And then I’m out of pocket again," she added. "I don’t know what it costs for a set of dentures, but it isn’t going to be cheap. Probably about three to four thousand (dollars)."

And that is a heavy cost where Gardner will just have to bite the bullet and shell out the money, she says.

“You just can’t go on like that," Gardner lamented.

Many dentists are choosing not to participate in the government’s CDCP plan, BarrieToday has learned.

“There are terms and conditions in the agreement dentists need to sign to provide care to those with CDCP benefits that we are uncomfortable with,” said Ontario Dental Association (ODA) president Dr. Brock Nicolucci.

“The biggest concern with the agreement has been that it can be changed at any time by Health Canada without dentists being consulted or agreeing to the changes,” added Nicolucci, who has a dental practice in London, Ont. “This could put our practices and patients at risk, and we don’t feel a contract that can be unilaterally changed by one side is fair.”

Nicolucci says the ODA are also worried about patient privacy.

“Maintaining our patients’ privacy is extremely important for us, ethically and legally,” he said. “There are terms and conditions in the CDCP agreement that could pose risks to our patients’ privacy and this needs to be fixed.”

Nicolucci says the association recently heard from Health Canada and it has recognized these problems. Some adjustments to the terms and conditions are expected.

“We are cautiously optimistic that our concerns will be addressed, but we are still waiting for details,” he said. “We know if these problems are resolved, more dentists will be comfortable providing care under the CDCP. And we hope Health Canada will act swiftly so that the millions of Canadians who urgently need access to oral health care can get it.”

In Barrie, one of the clinics accepting seniors using the new CDCP plan is Ferris Lane Dental.

“Sun Life is the overseeing insurance company that is handling all those payments to the dental offices,” an administrator at the north-end clinic told BarrieToday. “And if people go to the Sun Life website, there is actually a provider search there."

The Sun Life online search engine can be found here.

Reekie Denture Clinic, also located on Ferris Lane, is also accepting seniors with the new plan.

Health Canada has information about the program online here, as well as by telephone at 1-833-537-4342.

Resolving any difficulties in finding a participating dentist, along with the streamlining of the application process and making it easier for seniors to navigate, will be music to Gardner’s ears.

“You know what, I’ve always said to my son I’d like to die with a nice smile. Is that too much to ask?"

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Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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