Nova Scotia children need better dental programs, says a group representing Canada's pediatricians.

The Canadian Paediatric Society released a report showing within the country, children and youth from low-income families in many provinces are eligible for basic dental coverage up to age 18, but in Nova Scotia, the coverage ends at age 10.

"If you'll excuse the moniker, we need to put our money where our mouth is," said Ross Anderson, head of pediatric dentistry at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

He said he's seen the disastrous effect of Nova Scotia's decision to end provincial coverage at age 10.

"We see many children coming through emergency at age 10, 11, 12, 13 with big, fat, swollen faces because of cavities that have caused facial infections and tooth abscesses. A lot of poor families just stop going to see the dentist once that coverage ends," said Anderson.

"The most common reason for a missed school day remains a toothache. So if we can't get good education for our kids because their face is aching and they can't concentrate then, inevitably, we're not going to improve society altogether."

'A lot of poor families just stop going to see the dentist once that coverage ends.'  —Ross Anderson

Anderson added that improving dental care for children is a national issue. "New Brunswick, P.E.I,  Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are all worse than Nova Scotia," he said.

His colleague Ellen Wood sits on the board of the Canadian Paediatric Society and agrees Nova Scotia's dental coverage is inadequate.

"Nowhere near enough. It doesn't go old enough. In many other provinces across the country there's coverage up to 17, 18 years of age," she said.

Both Wood and Anderson said the cutoff doesn't save the province much since any money saved on regular care is later spent on more expensive and intrusive procedures in the hospital.

Canada ranks second last among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in public financing of dental care, the Canadian Paediatric Society noted.

The society's recommendations for provincial, territorial and federal governments include:

  • Ensure all children are afforded equal access to basic treatment and preventive oral care, regardless of where they live or their family's socioeconomic status.
  • Support fluoride supplementation.
  • Child health-care providers receive training and education in oral health, with an emphasis on early risk assessment.

Anderson said the government has acknowledged some of the problems and shown a willingness to discuss the issue.

"Baby steps and documenting improvements in outcomes for children is not unreasonable, especially as government makes difficult decisions in all areas of budgeting," he said.