Under a new program announced Friday, Ontario kids from low-income families will get free preventive dental care. ((Charlie Riedel/Associated Press))

Children from low-income families in Ontario will get free dental check-ups, the province's health minister announced Friday.

Deb Matthews said families earning under $20,000 are already eligible for free emergency dental care, including fillings.

But that will now extend that to preventive dental care, including check-ups, X-rays and cleanings.

"With this program, now 130,000 kids across the province are going to able to get that regular care and cleaning and preventative care," said Children's Services Minister Laurel Broten.

Dr. Michele Wong, a dental program manager with Toronto Public Health, said programs like this one are critical.

"I was a dentist in the clinics for many, many years, and I hear the personal stories that, you know, if it wasn't for us they wouldn't be able to afford this care for their children," she said.

However, the program doesn't extend to the province's working poor, meaning kids who have one parent earning minimum wage at a full-time job won't qualify.

Broten said there has to be a cutoff point.   "Listen, we always want to do more but we have to start where we can start - 130,000 kids is a lot of kids, it's a lot of smiles."

Kim Ivan, the head of the Ontario Dental Hygienists' Association, said many parents who don't have workplace benefits can't afford the price of checkups.

"It's either food on the table or taking my child to have some sort of oral health care," she said.

The free check-up program will cost taxpayers an estimated $45 million a year. The provincial government has promised to keep the plan in place for at least three years.