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Canada’s Senior Dental Care Plan

As Canada’s senior population continues to grow, so does the importance of maintaining good oral health in later years. With seniors now outnumbering those under 15 for the first time in history, it’s crucial to address the challenges they face in accessing dental care.

For many seniors, getting dental care can be quite a financial burden. That’s where the Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP) steps in – it’s a new initiative from the Government of Canada designed to help eligible individuals with their dental expenses.

The Dental Challenges Seniors Face

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on aging Canadians, approximately two-thirds report experiencing one or more dental problems, with over one-third reporting two or more issues.

Maintaining oral health as we age can be complicated by various factors such as limited mobility, cognitive impairments, and underlying health conditions. Financial constraints further exacerbate these challenges, making it difficult for many seniors to afford necessary dental treatments. Many live on fixed incomes or lack adequate dental insurance. As a result, they might put off dental visits or treatments, which can end up costing more in the long run.

Additionally, discrepancies in regulations between different government jurisdictions and the lack of oral health standards in residential and homecare settings contribute to the oral health struggles of seniors.

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Common Oral Health Concerns Among Seniors

Dental issues can arise from a variety of factors and can take several forms:

  • Cavities: Aging teeth are more susceptible to cavities, especially along the gum line or around existing fillings. 
  • Gum Disease: Gum disease, caused by plaque buildup around the gum line, can lead to gingivitis or periodontitis if left untreated. This can result in tooth loss and may necessitate emergency dental care if severe infection occurs.
  • Oral Cancer: Seniors face an increased risk of oral cancer, particularly after age 45, often due to tobacco and alcohol use or human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
  • Dry Mouth: Dry mouth is prevalent among older adults, due to factors like medication side effects, dehydration, autoimmune diseases, and radiation or chemotherapy side effects. Chronic dry mouth can lead to difficulties in speaking, chewing, and swallowing, as well as increased susceptibility to mouth sores, cracked lips, thrush, and dental issues.
  • Receding Gums: Gum recession exposes softer root tissue, increasing the risk of bacterial growth and inflammation, especially when combined with dry mouth. This can lead to more root decay and gum disease.
  • Missing Teeth: Apart from the psychological impacts like loss of self-esteem and self-consciousness, missing teeth can contribute to further tooth loss and temporomandibular diseases (TMDs).
  • Ill-Fitting Dentures: Nearly one in five older Canadians encounter problems with their dentures, including discomfort and difficulty with chewing. Ill-fitting dentures can also lead to social self-consciousness and loss of appetite. 
  • Wear and Tear: Seniors often experience wear and tear on their teeth and mouth, including loss of enamel due to aging and acidic foods. 

Prevention is key to maintaining optimal oral health in seniors. Daily oral hygiene practices, such as brushing with a soft/medium toothbrush, flossing, and avoiding acidic foods, can significantly reduce the risk of dental issues. Regular dental check-ups and timely treatment of any emerging problems are essential for preserving oral health and overall quality of life.

Introducing the Canadian Dental Care Plan

The CDCP aims to tackle challenges by giving eligible seniors access to essential dental services. To qualify, you need to be a Canadian resident, have filed your taxes the previous year, have a family income of less than $90,000, and not have access to dental care.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, what counts as access to dental insurance  means access to any type of dental insurance or coverage through other channels, such as:

  • your employer or a family member’s employer benefits, including health and wellness accounts
  • through your pension (previous employer) or a family member’s pension benefits this includes federal, provincial and territorial government pension plans
  • a professional or student organization
  • purchased by you or a family member or through a group plan from an insurance or benefits company

You’re still considered to have access to dental insurance if you choose to opt out of available benefits like these.

The rollout of the plan has begun, starting with seniors aged 87 and older in December 2023. It will then gradually include younger seniors, individuals with disabilities, children, and other eligible residents, with full implementation expected by 2025.

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What Does the Plan Cover?

One of the best things about the CDCP is that it covers a wide range of dental services. From basic cleanings and sealants to more complicated procedures like fillings and root canals, the plan ensures that seniors can get the care they need. And it’s not just about treating problems – the plan also covers regular check-ups to catch issues early.

Preparing for Enrollment

As the rollout progresses, seniors are encouraged to prepare for enrollment by filing their taxes and ensuring their mailing address is up to date with relevant government agencies. It’s worth noting that reimbursement for dental work done before your application is approved might not be available right away, so it’s important to be patient.

To learn more about the CDCP and see if you’re eligible, click here.

The CDCP is a step forward in making dental care more accessible and affordable for seniors and others who need it. By taking care of our oral health, we can all look forward to smiling brightly in our golden years.

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