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Charla Huber: Dental coverage plan will change lives

"I am lucky that my teeth grew straight, I never needed my wisdom teeth removed, and I got my first cavity at 27. I know that not all kids who don’t see the dentist have that privilege."
Jagmeet Singh and Laurel Collins spent some time on Fort Street last week meeting with people passing by. SUBMITTED

I grew up in a single-parent household and we didn’t always go to the dentist regularly. The cost of dental care was a barrier for my family. When I was really young, we sometimes went to a friend of the family who was a dentist because they would offer the service for a ­minimal charge, as a favour.

I remember as a teenager going to some type of non-profit or discount dentist. I can’t remember how often we went to the dentist, but I know that it was not close to every six months. I am sure sometimes there might have been a year or so between dental visits.

I know some of you might be ­thinking that I am Indigenous and would have received free dental care, but I never have. Being a part of the 60s Scoop, I do not know what community I am from, and without that information I can’t have access.

I am lucky that my teeth grew straight, I never needed my wisdom teeth removed, and I got my first cavity at 27. I know that not all kids who don’t see the dentist have that privilege.

My mother told me that her family had trouble affording a dentist, too, when she was young. Her family couldn’t afford braces and she was told to push on her teeth with popsicle sticks.

I left home at 18 and worked seasonal jobs at ski hills and resort towns. Even after I started a professional career that came with benefits, I didn’t start going to the dentist regularly for years. I think it was because it wasn’t something I’d ever done.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in town last week and he made time to chat with me. Singh talked about how the federal government plans to have dental coverage for children under 12 by the end of the year.

“The cost of living is going up, there is a war that is threatening global security, and there is a lot of fear and anxiety,” Singh said. “We have people saying: ‘You need to get us some help,’ and in that help we are going to help people get their teeth fixed.”

Not too long ago, I wrote a column about a mother, whose daughter had an accident at school that prompted an emergency dental appointment. The mother had three young kids and was ­living on disability benefits. Her dental coverage usually covered 100 per cent of her kids’ dental fees, but, for some reason, her daughter’s accident wasn’t covered, and the mother was upset and worried about how she could pay the bill.

This new coverage that is planned to be rolled out would have alleviated the stress. It will also get kids to experience regular dental care that they can continue into adulthood and for their future ­families.

Singh explained the federal ­government would be billed directly for all “essential” dental work, saving people from having to pay upfront and then wait to be reimbursed. I think this is so ­important, because if money is tight and people already can’t afford dental fees, making them pay up front and wait, is a barrier.

I’ve often wondered why dental care isn’t more accessible. This program is going to change lives. It will set up young children with a healthier foundation. Free dental care can take a weight off parent’s shoulders. It can get cavities filled faster and, ultimately, cavities prevented.