Saskatchewan

'It's just stupidity': Toothless Regina man upset over rules on publicly funded dentures

Brent Moffatt, 47, suffers from dramatic weight fluctuations due to chronic health problems. He wants the province of Saskatchewan to pay for dental implants that would attach to his jawbone.

Brent Moffatt can't wear regular dentures, but doesn't qualify for implants paid for by province

Brent Moffatt, 47, suffers from dramatic weight fluctuations due to chronic health problems. Despite limited public funding for dental care, he wants the province of Saskatchewan to pay for dental implants that would attach to his jawbone. 1:05

Tattooed and pierced, Brent Moffatt, 47, has always revelled in the unorthodox and strived to live outside the rules.

Dubbed 'The Human Pincushion,' he made headlines in 2003 when he won a Guinness World Record for body piercing, and again when he auctioned his forehead on eBay to be tattooed by the highest bidder.

But now, nearly toothless and dangerously sick, Moffatt is desperate for dental implants and he wants the government of Saskatchewan to pay for them.  
Brent Moffatt, 47, wants the government to pay for dental implants that would attach to his jawbone. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Only five per cent of dental care is publicly funded in Canada, and implant dentures are rarely covered.

That makes Moffatt's quest to get his implants publicly funded his most daring and ill-fated venture yet. 

About 10 per cent of people have difficulty wearing regular dentures that sit on the gums, because they suffer pain and therefore can't chew solid food. In comparison, dental implants attach securely to the jawbone with titanium screws. 

Implants only in special cases

Dr. Robert Wagner, an oral surgeon, says governments are rarely willing to pay for dental care. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Dr. Robert Wagner, a Regina oral surgeon, examined Moffatt and concluded that he doesn't meet Saskatchewan's strict criteria for covering the $30,000 in implants.  The province will cover the cost only if the person has a tumour or congenital defect.

"This is gold standard treatment, but it's very expensive treatment," Wagner said.

Wagner says, like it or not, dental care is only publicly funded when medically necessary and it can be a bureaucratic battle to convince government officials that dental implants fit that bill. Saskatchewan's ministry of health only approves about 10 cases a year.

Moffatt suffers from chronic kidney diseases and intestinal problems that require daily morphine use. He is frequently hospitalized and his weight fluctuates because of his conditions. 

Fluctuating weight because of health problems

Brent Moffatt weighs about 110 lbs, but often loses 10 to 20 lbs. due to chronic health problems. (CBC News)

The six-foot man weighs 110 lbs. on a good day, but he can pass up to 10 kidney stones a month and rapidly lose between 10 to 20 lbs.

About six years ago, he had a nasty infection in his teeth, gums and jawbone.

"[The dentist] told me all of my teeth, other than six, needed root canals because I had a horrible infection that was full of pus," Moffatt said.

Moffatt couldn't afford the root canals. He can't work because of his health problems and lives off assistance from the province's income support program for people with disabilities, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID).

He had no choice but to get most of his teeth pulled.

The province's supplementary health program covers a new set of regular dentures every five years, with one re-adjustment every three years and two relinings a year to help the dentures fit shifting gums.

Dentures too loose or too tight

However, Moffatt says it's not enough for him. As his weight roller-coasters every couple of months, the dentures become too loose or too tight.

"[The province] even said, 'We'll remake your dentures.' Well, that's going to last two months. It's just stupidity," Moffatt said.

"If I'm going to need a [denture] reline six times a year, for the next 20 years, 30 years, how does that make sense financially? When one time we can get these implant dentures done."

Oral health care is almost entirely privately financed in Canada, with 51 per cent of care paid for through employment-based insurance and 44 per cent through individual out-of-pocket payments, according to a recent report by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

It also found that Canada provides one of the lowest levels of public funding for oral health and dental care among 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The report concludes that people who need dental care the most, receive it the least.

Not cosmetic

"People think I'm a meth head," Moffatt acknowledges, referring to people's presumption that drug use caused his tooth decay.

Still, he maintains his desire for dental implants isn't motivated by vanity.

"If somebody comes there saying, 'I want the good ones because I want to look pretty,' kick them out of the office. I'm right with you on that," he said. "This isn't cosmetic, it's needed."

Dr. Wagner says he isn't certain the dental implants are medically necessary, suggesting that a nutritionist could help Brent increase his caloric intake without teeth, and that his family dentist could explore other denture options.

"The criteria the ministry has is strict and there is not any grey area in this particular case," he said.

About the Author

Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a Master's in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC

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