Strait area MLAs discuss dental coverage for children

HALIFAX: Two local MLAs on different sides of the political fence hashed out issues related to the province’s children’s dental program during the fall sitting of legislature.

Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster followed up on questions he asked about a year ago relating to the program. MacMaster was concerned the province is moving away from universal dental coverage for children to provide the service to families who meet an income test.

“I know this work isn’t always the most profitable for dentists, as private dental plans pay more for the work than the government rates, and restless children in the chair sometimes take more time,” he said.

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“But think of the money we save in fewer dental surgeries for children whose cavities land them in the emergency room because they have not gotten dental care.”

MacMaster asked Randy Delorey, the Minister of Health and Wellness, to flesh out what governmental changes had been made, and to and table a report on emergency dental surgeries for children to see if these statistics are improving.

Delorey said the provincial government has not made any changes requiring income testing.

“What we have done is moved forward with increasing the coverage for some services for children, relating to – not fillings, but some fluoride treatments and a couple of other treatments,” Delorey said.

MacMaster said he accepts the minister’s word about the program, but he added that universal dental care for children ought to be a very high priority for the government.

“Universal dental care is comparable to universal health care,” he said. “Who in this legislature would argue against the value of that? Many in health care would suggest that dental care is just as important, and we know that dental issues quickly become broader health problems for those who have them.”

With that in mind, he asked if Delorey was able to table evidence that the ruling Liberals made an increase in the number of children getting regular dental care.

“The last time I gathered some information and was being briefed on the topic, one of the things that seemed a little bit challenging was awareness in some areas of the population,” Delorey said. “I think it’s important for members here to let their communities know that there are services for youth to receive dental care.

“There have been some examples where individuals have come in too late, a little bit older, and some of the decay was greater and required surgery, where had they been seen earlier, perhaps it might not have been the case. At times, those individuals coming into the dentist’s office hadn’t realized that they could have gotten some preventive care earlier.”

Speaking to The Reporter last Monday, MacMaster said the main reason he brought up the matter was to remind government that people are watching out for the changes made to such programs.

“If they’re going to make a change like that, it should be to benefit the children – not take services away from children,” he said. “All children need dentistry.”

He added that any kids under 14 really ought to take advantage of the program.

“Going to the dentist isn’t that bad,” he said. “It’s a whole lot better than facing dental surgery later on.”

If anyone has problems scheduling a dental appointment for their kid, MacMaster said he wants to hear about it.