As many people struggle to find a family doctor, they may also be forced to find a new dentist.

The Government of Canada’s announcement that millions of people in Canada will soon have access to oral healthcare through the Canadian Dental Care Plan  (CDCP) came as welcome news to many.

As the voice of Manitoba dentists, Manitoba Dental Association has promoted the proven relationship between oral and general health for decades. The CDCP represents an unprecedented opportunity to improve the overall health of Canadians – if it is done right.

However, we are concerned about several aspects of the government’s plan, particularly that many patients covered under CDCP will not have the freedom to choose their own dentist. 

The CDCP is designed in such a way that oral health providers (e.g. dentists) must agree to participate in the plan to be paid by government for the care they provide to eligible patients. Under CDCP rules, patients are not allowed to pay their dentist directly and then seek reimbursement from the government.

While this means that CDCP-covered patients will not need to submit claims and seek repayment, it also means they will only be covered for dental care they receive from participating providers. The result is that many people who have been seeing their dentist for years will be forced to find a different dentist, possibly hours away.

In the realm of healthcare, the significance of patient autonomy cannot be overstated. From selecting a primary care physician to choosing specialists, people cherish the ability to make informed decisions about their healthcare providers. Dentistry, often overlooked in discussions of patient choice, is equally vital to overall well-being. The capacity to select one’s dentist holds profound importance, impacting not only oral health but also overall satisfaction and confidence in oral healthcare experiences.

The relationship between a patient and their dentist is unique, characterized by trust, communication, and mutual respect. When patients have the freedom to choose their dentist, they can seek out professionals who align with their individual needs, preferences, and values. 

One of the primary benefits of choosing a dentist lies in the establishment of a personalized treatment approach. Every patient has unique oral health concerns, ranging from routine cleanings and preventive care to complex restorative procedures. 

Beyond clinical expertise, the interpersonal dynamics between a patient and their dentist significantly influence the overall treatment experience. Many people experience anxiety or fear when visiting the dentist, often stemming from past negative experiences or trauma. In such cases, allowing patients to continue getting care from a dentist with whom they have a trusted relationship can make a world of difference.

Moreover, for individuals with specific cultural or linguistic backgrounds, choosing a dentist who understands their unique needs can enhance the quality of care received. Effective communication is essential in healthcare interactions, and having a dentist who speaks the same language or is sensitive to cultural nuances can facilitate clearer exchanges of information and foster trust.

While the CDCP represents an opportunity to increase access to oral healthcare, especially for vulnerable populations, it must be done right and it must respect patient choice. If a CDCP-covered patient sees a dentist that has agreed to participate in the CDCP, the dentist will submit claims directly to the government. 

However, if that dentist has opted not to participate in the CDCP for various reasons, the patient cannot seek dental care from that provider and use their CDCP coverage. Currently, Canadians with existing private and public insurance, as well as those who are uninsured, have the ability to seek care from their choice of licensed professional. This freedom of choice should be protected for all patients. Ensuring the CDCP parallels access to care of existing insurance will not only allow patient choice, but it will enable thousand of dentists to treat CDCP-covered patients.

Given that some nine million people in Canada will be eligible under CDCP, and many will not have seen a dentist in years (or ever), reducing the barriers for dentists to provide care will be key to success. 

Ultimately, the ability to choose one’s dentist is a fundamental aspect of patient-centered care. By empowering individuals to select their dentist, we can enhance the quality of oral healthcare delivery and promote positive outcomes for patients.

Embracing patient choice in dentistry is not only a testament to respect for autonomy, but also a pathway to healthier smiles and 
happier patients.

Dr. Daron Baxter
President & Board Chair
Manitoba Dental Association

Dr. Jeff Hein
Vice President & Economics Committee Chair 
Manitoba Dental Association


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