Dental care for Nunavummiut still on hold
“We’re pretty limited in what we can provide”
Nunavummiut seeking non-emergency dental care will have to continue waiting as plans to resume services are still on hold.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nunavut’s oral health division suspended all dental services across the territory in mid-March.
“We followed suit with the other jurisdictions in the country who all were doing the same thing pretty much at the same time,” said Dr. Ron Kelly, the territory’s chief dental officer.
Shortly after that, clinics in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay were opened and staffed with a dentist and an assistant who would handle dental emergencies in those communities, as well as in each of their respective regions.
However, those clinics are more of a last resort.
“If we can treat the emergencies with medications and we think that’s going to do the trick for the patient, then we’ll try that route first,” said Kelly.
By doing this, Kelly said that they have been able to limit the number of clinic visits significantly, which means more availability for those with no other options.
But even then, that service is extremely limited.
“When they come in, all they’re getting is service that addresses their immediate pain or infection problem,” said Kelly.
“We’re not doing any other work.”
That means no fillings, no denture repairs, no orthodontics and, especially, no cleanings.
This is because most dental procedures produce aerosols, said Kelly, and these super-fine droplets are one of the primary ways in which a coronavirus spreads.
Because of this, dentistry is considered very high risk.
“So we’re pretty limited in what we can provide,” said Kelly.
“It’s just about trying to keep people comfortable.”
Kelly also understands that this current approach isn’t sustainable indefinitely.
“You can’t fly more and more people to the hubs, right? At some point that becomes unmanageable,” he said.
For now, the priority “will be getting dental teams back in the communities to provide basic services,” said Kelly.
While there is no timeline yet for any changes to dental care in Nunavut, Kelly notes that it will be a phased approach, dependent on orders from Nunavut’s chief public health officer.
And even then, procedures like routine cleanings would be one of the last to be provided.
The other challenge will be accessing dental services in the south, which is often done when children outside the Qikiqtaaluk need to receive treatment under general anesthetic.
“I can imagine some parents might be wondering what’s going on … because their kids have been on a list for that for some time now,” said Kelly.
Because of this, it’s a service they’re looking to open up as soon as possible, said Kelly, but it comes with logistical challenges.
“We can’t decide when those facilities in the south will open. They’ll tell us when they’re once again taking patients from Nunavut,” he said.
“It’s not ideal to lose this time because most of the kids on the GA [general anesthetic] list have urgent needs and you hate to think of them being uncomfortable and having to wait and wait.”
The other challenge with sending dental patients south is the two-week quarantine at an isolation hub before their return to the territory, which turns an otherwise short trip into one lasting for half a month, a precaution that Dr. Michael Patterson has said would be the last pandemic precaution lifted.
Despite these challenges, Kelly asks for patience from Nunavummiut.
“We’re trying our best to provide emergency service,” he said, “which is really all we can do right now.”
For residents of Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet or Cambridge Bay who are experiencing severe dental pain or infection, you can contact your local clinic at the numbers below. Those who show up at these clinics without a pre-arranged appointment time will not be seen.
- Iqaluit: regional dental co-ordinator at Qikiqtani General Hospital – 867-975-8600, ext. 6206
- Rankin Inlet Dental Clinic – 867-645-2776
- Cambridge Bay Dental Clinic – 867-983-4171
Nunavummiut living outside those communities who are experiencing severe dental pain or infection should contact their local health centre.