Long waitlists for low-income dental care called unacceptable

Some low-income Calgarians are waiting years to access dental care because clinics that offer subsidized care are at full capacity.

Liberal Leader David Swann calls on province to fund dentistry for those unable to afford it

The waitlists for the few subsidized dental services available in Calgary are very long. (Getty Images)

Many low-income Albertans are waiting years to access dental care because clinics that offer subsidized care are at full capacity, advocates say.

Because of the economic downturn, more people are finding themselves unable to afford to go to a regular dentist.

The only free dental clinic in Calgary, which was run by the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), closed in April.

That's putting more pressure on the Alex Centre's Dental Health Bus, a converted mobile home that offers "low-barrier dental care on wheels" primarily for youth in low-income areas, according to the organization's website. 

Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann says the province is falling short in its response to the opioid crisis. (CBC)

"Every day I'm having to say no to people … we just don't have the funding," said program lead Denise Kokaram.

She added that many people are forced to wait until an emergency extraction is needed before they can get care.

"They might have been able to have a root canal or have a filling that would have saved the tooth," she said.

"But those are treatments that aren't covered typically, so now their alternative is to have the tooth pulled. And for many people that are in pain and are vulnerable, that is their best option."

Kokaram says some patients have been on the waitlist for years.

Alberta Health Services operates a subsidized clinic at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre in downtown Calgary, but it is also at full capacity.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader Dr. David Swann says the situation is not acceptable.

"The Alberta College and Association of Dentistry needs to look at its advertising criteria that prevent dentists from actively competing on prices," he said.

"And the government has to step up and properly fund public health dentistry for those who can't afford it."