The federal government is spending a million dollars to send five chartered plane loads of Nunavut children to the hospital in Churchill, Man., for dental surgery.
Their dental problems are so severe they need to be put under anesthetic before their teeth can be pulled or capped.
Three chartered flights for children under seven years of age, some as young as two, have already taken place from Nunavut's Baffin region and more are planned for the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions. In all, 120 children will go.
Each surgery costs about $1,000, not counting the cost of travel and accommodation.
"Really none of those children are selected to go for general anesthetic unless they have five or six teeth that are severely affected, those are with abscesses and large decays and cavities that need to be addressed," said Monita O'Connor, assistant deputy minister of operations for Nunavut's Department of Health.
The government considered sending them to the hospital in Iqaluit but decided Churchill was better equipped to handle that many children.
Health Canada pays for dental care for Inuit through its Non-Insured Health Benefits program, but there are no dentists or dental hygienists in most Nunavut communities.
A spokesperson for Health Canada said the additional $1 million was provided in funding to the Government of Nunavut through the Non-Insured Health Benefits program to co-ordinate the travel and services to send the children to Churchill for dental treatment, on top of the $4 million that the NIHB program provides annually for this treatment.
Health Canada says so far during the 2013/14 fiscal year, 600 Inuit children in total from Nunavut have received dental treatment under general anesthetic.
Iqaluit dentist Steve Partyka says the government should be spending its money on bringing more dentists to the territory.
"Every child should be seen by a dentist — not a pseudo-dental professional — a real dentist or hygienist twice a year," he said. "
They should be getting a cleaning and they should get a full check-up, at least one check-up a year, and their problems should be addressed promptly."
"We can prevent a lot of this by proper hygiene instruction with brushing and flossing at an early age. Everything dental is preventable. There's no reason a child today has to go throughout life without teeth."