All three of Ontario's main parties are promising to provide dental care to more people should they form government after the election, but the president of the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) said the province should fix its existing dental programs before launching any new dental care initiatives.
PC Leader Doug Ford said his party will pump $90 million dollars into dental. That's in addition to a free dental care program for low-income seniors that his government introduced.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said dental care is part of his party's proposal to offer "portable benefits" to people who don't have coverage through their jobs.
The Ontario NDP is proposing a $680 million dollar universal dental plan for all, but the party hasn't costed that promise.
Charles Frank, Windsor, Ont. dentist and president of the ODA, said Ontario already sponsors five dental care programs, but said each one is poorly funded and only reimburses 37 per cent of costs, leaving the dentist providing the care to pay for the rest. For that reason, Frank said some dentists don't accept these government programs.
"For decades, we've been suffering under these poor levels of reimbursement for these programs," Frank told CBC News. "And then to hear them talk about bringing another program, it's critical that these programs run properly and that they get fixed."
Frank said the under-funding means Ontario dentists themselves end up subsidizing the government programs at a cost of about $150 million each year, and some dentists don't accept the programs at all.
"The problem is that when you have a young child coming to the office, even though the Health Smiles Ontario program is so poorly underfunded, it's not that child's fault they're on the program and they need to be looked after," he said. "No child should have to go to bed in pain."
"And yet the government is pushing us, making it much more difficult for the dentist, particularly with COVID as well," Frank said. "There's a lower level of activity in the office because of the restrictions from COVID, and that just exacerbates the problems we already were having with the underfunded programs."
Frank said the ODA was not consulted by the NDP about its dental care proposal.
"We were surprised with the announcement came out because they didn't talk to us," he said. "They didn't provide a lot of details. And it makes sense that if you have somebody providing the service, that would be logical to talk to the people that are providing the service."
Part of the NDP's plan is designed to reduce strain on the healthcare system from people who go to the emergency department for dental issues.
However, Frank, who has privileges at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH), said that rarely comes up, as most dentists are able to work on-call and deal with emergencies that way.
One per day
Statistics provided by WRH show that both pediatric and adult dental visits, combined, made up about 0.4 per cent of all emergency department visits in its 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. A hospital spokesperson said the hospital gets about one dental case per day in its emergency department.
Jay Goldberg, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he's concerned about the amount of debt these proposals will result in.
"All of the parties are pledging to run record deficits," he said.
He said households have to find a balance between wants and needs, and the province should do the same, and at the very least, governments should be very clear about where the funding for these programs is going to come from.
"It's irresponsible and it's unfair to taxpayers and voters," he said. "Taxpayers and voters, we're smart. We know that when the government takes on tens of billions of dollars of new debt, that's going to impact us."
"All this government debt and borrowing has helped create the inflation crisis that we're having right now, and we're going to have a budget crisis on our hands."
Goldberg said he'd rather see the province give people a "break," considering the rising cost of living.
"Everything is up and families are being squeezed," he said. "Right now is really the time to figure out how do we make sure we leave more money in people's pockets so that they can afford to pay their bills and make ends meet."
"I think priority number one is getting money back to the people," Goldberg said. "Priority number two should be balancing the books, and presenting a clear plan to do so."