Montreal

Quebec will now cover dental care for young cancer survivors

Necessary treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment can damage young mouths and teeth — and for those who require surgery, it can come at a high cost to families.

Reconstructive surgery into early adulthood will also be covered

About 300 children are diagnosed with cancer in Quebec every year. For some of those who receive chemotherapy and radiation treatment, their young mouths and teeth can undergo major damage. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Quebec's public health insurance will now cover certain oral care for young cancer survivors.

The government says about 300 children are diagnosed with cancer in the province every year.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can damage young mouths and teeth — and for those who require surgery, that can come at a high cost to their families.

Such dental care is not currently covered by Quebec's public insurance plan (RAMQ).

Health Minister Danielle McCann said the after Radio-Canada's investigative program La Facture aired a report on the issue last December, the government decided to "correct an injustice."

"We're talking about very expensive treatment. We're talking about between $5,000 and $75,000," said McCann at a news conference announcing the new program.

McCann noted that those who have been in a car accident can get reconstructive surgery covered through the public insurance plan.

Jérémy, one of the subjects of a La Facture investigation into the cost of dental care for young cancer survivors, was at the funding announcement by Quebec's Health Ministry. His mother, Marie-Claude Hébert, is seen in the background. (CBC Montreal)

One of the subjects of the La Facture report, Jérémy, was in attendance with his family. After he survived rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common type of soft-tissue cancer in children, medical experts estimated he would need at least $30,000 in dental work.

"Some kids … will be missing teeth or [have] teeth that are not in the right position or the right form," said Dr. Marie-Ève Asselin, head of Sainte-Justine Hospital's dental department.

RAMQ will cover preventive care and reconstructive surgery, McCann said, at a cost of around $1.5 million per year. She said more details about the program will be announced in April.

The government will cover dental care for young survivors into early adulthood. That particular detail is "fantastic news," says the head of the Ordre des dentistes de Québec, Dr. Barry Dolman, since it shows the government is acknowledging sometimes it is best to wait before doing reconstructive work.

"It shows a new direction of policy," said Dolman, who said he's watched as a decade of provincial budgets chipped away at dental care.

He said he's taking the announcement as a positive sign that the government would be open to covering other medically required dental work in the future, such as for children born with deformities.

Québec Solidaire's health care critic, Sol Zanetti, whose party campaigned on a promise to provide universal dental care, also said he wants to see the government go further. 

"It targets only a few patients, and it's a really good thing for them," he said.

"We have to see the big picture: a lot of people will be left behind."

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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