Nunavut needs better preventative dental care: MLA

“Not looking after teeth could lead to some serious consequences”


People in Nunavut's larger communities like Cambridge Bay, shown here, see dentists like Malcolm Crozier, with hygienist Ethel Bailey (shown here in 2010) regularly — for 12 days a month. (FILE PHOTO)

People in Nunavut’s larger communities like Cambridge Bay, shown here, see dentists like Malcolm Crozier, with hygienist Ethel Bailey (shown here in 2010) regularly — for 12 days a month. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut needs more dentists, hygienists and dental therapists working regularly in the territory.

Hudson Bay MLA Alan Rumbolt brought up the issue in Nunavut’s legislature Feb. 27 during question period.

“An increase in dental preventative care in Nunavut communities would go a long way towards the health and well being of all the residents,” Rumbolt said, in a question directed to health minister Keith Peterson.

Rumbolt wanted to know what kind of preventative care is delivered to communities on a regular basis.

“It’s no secret that the earlier that children begin oral hygiene, the better their teeth will be, and, of course, we know that teeth are important right up until old age,” he said.

“Not looking after teeth could lead to some serious consequences,” he added.

The Inuit Oral Health Survey 2008-09 found that tooth decay is two to three times worse among Inuit than among other Canadians.

That survey found that Inuit have more rotten teeth, which need treatment, but that fewer teeth receive treatment, and that more teeth are extracted among Inuit than other Canadians.

Nunavut’s health department oversees a school fluoride rinse program, a school tooth brushing program, a pre- and post-natal presentation at the health centres, and a day care tooth brushing program, Peterson responded.

And an oral health program for children is being developed, he said.

“We’re also currently working with Health Canada to increase dental services provided to the communities. We recognize that there are issues, it’s a real tragedy when you see, two, three, four, five year old kids with a whole mouth full of silver teeth,” he said.

“The earlier we address preventative tooth decay, the earlier it’s going to benefit the kids,” Peterson said.

Rumbolt argued that the high cost of medical transportation and accommodations for people to fly out of their home communities to receive treatment has been well documented.

So he wanted to know if there has been any cost analysis to compare the cost of providing regular dental care at the community level against the expense of flying people out and providing accommodations.

“I’m not aware that the health department has done a detailed, cost analysis but as a finance-type person, common sense tells me that you do it closer to home, there will be savings, unfortunately, that’s not possible in our communities,” Peterson said.

Contractors do come in to Nunavut to do dental services, but where necessary, Nunavut sends children to Churchill, Manitoba for general anesthesia to receive treatment, Peterson said.

“We’re looking at the possibility of using the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit for children in Baffin to address the huge backlog we have in this region,” Peterson said.

“It’s interesting the minister mentioned the contractors coming to the communities because, the contractors that do come to the communities come to pull teeth, not to prevent people from getting teeth decay or anything,” Rumbolt replied.

Rumbolt also asked how many dental care providers, such as dental hygienists, dental therapists or dentists work for the Government of Nunavut and where they work.

Peterson agreed that it is “unfortunate “when dentists come to Nunavut to pull teeth.

He did not have the exact numbers of dentists, but said there are dental therapists in Iqaluit, Arctic Bay, Arviat, Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet.

“Where possible we request these dental therapists to go visit other communities to help the communities there… there’s a real backlog of vacancies for these positions all across Canada,” he said.

Rumbolt asked Peterson to commit to a review of what regular preventative dental care is currently being provided.

“Dental care is a high priority and concern for our department, like I said we are working with Health Canada…we’ll continue to make it a high priority,” Peterson replied.

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