The Yukon is giving residents up to $1,300 a year for dental care bills that aren't covered by other forms of insurance.
The program, that started taking applications on Wednesday, covers all dental treatments that will relieve pain or infection, treat cavities and restore chewing function. Routine procedures, like dental cleanings, will also be covered.
Stephen Doyle, the Yukon's director of insured health strategic planning, said the program should be able to help up to 8,000 Yukoners.
"We've already received a few applications," Doyle told CBC. "The intent is to get them processed as quickly as possible and get people ... seeing the dentist as soon as they can."
The program is open to Yukoners that have a territorial healthcare card, no other dental insurance plans and make less than $60,000 per year as an individual or less than $90,000 for individuals with two children. After that, the threshold increases with family size.
The Yukon already has a dental care program for children under 12. Any children that are not eligible for this program could be eligible for the territorial dental plan if their parents still meet the income bracket requirements.
People will have to re-apply each year to the program.
The government is committing $1.8 million towards the program. Doyle says that should be enough money for all 8,000 Yukoners who could be helped by the program, even if they max out their benefit.
'A great first step'
The move's been a long time coming in the territory.
The Putting People First report, released in 2020, recommended a dental care program for the territory as part of several recommendations after a sweeping review of the Yukon's health and social systems.
It was also a key election issue for the Yukon's NDP in 2021, and one of the major ticket items in the agreement the NDP signed with the minority Liberals as a condition of supporting their government. That agreement is set to expire on Jan. 31.
NDP leader Kate White said the launch of the program is a "great first step," but that it eventually needs to become universal coverage.
"It's about dignity," White told the CBC's Leonard Linklater on Midday Cafe. "People deserve to have the ability to smile and feel good about it, and they deserve to live without pain.
"If you can't chew, that really limits your ability to take care of yourself."
Some cosmetic procedures, like veneers and orthodontics, are not covered by the program. White said she would want to see any possible expansion focus on preventative dental care.
The plan was announced just months after a federal children's dental care program that offers up to $650 for children younger than 12 for those who make less than $90,000 a year.
In a statement, the opposition Yukon Party said they want to know how the Yukon's new program will interact with the federal one.
Doyle said they will evaluate that as the program starts to get up and running.