Oral health strategy to combat concerns for children’s oral health in Nova Scotia

Fewer children are using services provided by the Department of Health and Wellness

The College of Dental Hygienists of Nova Scotia (CDHNS) is pushing for a provincial oral health strategy it says is long overdue.

At the Nova Scotia legislature on Tuesday, CDHNS and Department of Health and Wellness representatives told the provincial standing committee on health that such a strategy would improve the oral health of children in the province.

In 2014, the CHDNS produced a white paper titled “Dental Hygienists Prevent More to Treat Less,” detailing the need to better use dental hygienists in providing oral care.

One of the paper’s recommendations was to develop and integrate an oral health strategy that complements the Nova Scotia Children’s oral health program. That universal program covers certain dental services for all children age 14 and younger who have a valid MSI health card number.

CDHNS representative Stacy Bryan told the committee that the time was right to act in 2014, and the time to act is still right in 2020.

One issue the strategy would help tackle is the fact that fewer eligible children are using government-funded basic dental services.

“Of the 61 per cent who are not accessing the program, it is likely the majority belong to the populations most at risk for oral disease,” Bryan told the committee.

While the number of people choosing to not use the program has increased, the CDHNS said that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer children are seeing the dentist. It could be, for example, that they’re turning to private insurance instead. The CDHNS did not have the statistics for how many children are using private insurance.

The committee heard that another problem facing children seeking oral health care is wait times. According to the province’s online list outlining health-care wait times, on average 90 per cent of children in the province have to wait up to 293 days to get a surgery consultation, and up to another 378 days if a surgery is necessary.

Opposition parties had several questions for the committee, including the province’s Progressive Conservatives, who stated that wait times are less than ideal.

Angela Purcell with the Department of Health and Wellness agreed. One way they hope to cut down wait times is to ensure the referrals children receive for specialized care are not something that can be easily dealt with by a community dentist.

The New Democratic Party also had apprehensions.

“It is concerning that I asked about timelines and I was not given any timelines for completion of a strategy or what it will actually entail,” said NDP MLA Susan Leblanc.

The opposition parties also raised concerns about the fact that the CDHNS has yet to appoint a provincial chief oral health officer.

They also noted the fact that there’s missing data indicating how many children are covered under private insurance, saying it will make the strategy harder to create.

Olivia Malley

Olivia Malley

Hailing from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, Olivia is a journalist passionate about the HRM. Outside of reporting she enjoys singing in King's a capella choir and is a part of the school's residence staff.

Have a story idea? Let us know