Changes to kids dental program could be ready for early 2019

Changes are expected to come to Nova Scotia’s oral health program for children by the end of January following consultations between officials with the Health Department and the Nova Scotia Dental Association.

N.S. Health Minister Randy Delorey says people shouldn't fear reduced services

Health Minister Randy Delorey says pending changes to the children's oral health program will not lead to reduced services. (CBC)

Changes are expected to Nova Scotia's oral health program for children by the end of January.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said Wednesday proposed regulatory changes, reached following talks between his department and officials with the Nova Scotia Dental Association, will go to cabinet for approval before the end of 2018.

Delorey wouldn't detail the changes, but said in an interview any concerns they will result in reduced coverage are unfounded.

"The changes that are coming forward are positive, incremental improvements to the program," he said.

Calls for program changes

Dentists in the province have called for changes to the program, which provides basic dental care for kids up to 14, for some time.

As past governments sought to expand care to more age groups, the dental association cautioned the program wasn't being used in the most effective way.

The group said services should be focused on those who need them the most in an effort to prevent costly dental problems in the future.

Dr. Nada Haidar, president of the dental association, said the pending changes are "a start."

"We honestly believe that prevention is the key to preventing acute dental cases from happening in the future and I think that's the most important thing with the young population in our province," said Haidar.

The Halifax-based dentist said without preventative care, more acute cases wind up at the IWK Health Centre.

The Nova Scotia Dental Association says early intervention is key to preventing significant oral health issues in the future. (Michael Conroy/The Associated Press)

Haidar said ideally she and her colleagues would like to see resources for the program expanded, although they understand that's not likely in the short term. The association hopes to develop a more collaborative approach with the government when it comes to finding ways to improve the program, she said.

Haidar said she's not aware of any "fundamental changes" planned and that her organization remains a "huge proponent of access to care."

Right now, the program allows for annual checkups, X-rays and preventative services such as polishing, counselling and instruction in 15-minute blocks. It also offers basic restorations and extractions.

Cleaning controversy

Controversy arose this past summer when it appeared coverage for some cleaning would be removed, something quickly shot down by Premier Stephen McNeil.

Delorey said that situation didn't play into how he's approached the file, calling it a "singular incident."

"The work, really fundamentally, leading up to these changes is based upon a fairly lengthy discussion and engagement with the dental association … and then coming back and assessing that evidence and our ability to incorporate some of those changes into the program in a sustainable way," he said.

"When we make decisions, I want to look for opportunities for sustainable implementations. I don't think it's in anybody's interest to make unsustainable changes or implement unsustainable programs."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman

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Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca