What happens when you can't afford dental care?

April is Oral Health Month in Canada, a time to remember how important our teeth and gums are to our health and well-being. Yet many individuals and families must make tough decisions on a regular basis when it comes to affording dental care. While some of us have benefits from our workplace that help us afford dental care, many of us do not. According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, over 35% of Canadians did not have dental insurance and almost 1 in 4 Canadians reported avoiding seeing a dental professional due to cost. Navigating affordable dental care options can be a challenge, but we can help.

Why dental care is important for your health

Senior couple brushing their teeth in the morning

The financial burden of dental care can lead to neglecting oral health, which can cause serious complications down the line. Tooth decay and gum disease, the two most common forms of disease in our mouths, can lead to pain and infection. For children, tooth decay can affect their sleep, learning, speech and eating. Poor oral health is associated with health risks like heart disease and diabetes, and in pregnancy it can lead to premature birth and low birth weights for newborns.

How to take care of your oral health

A father brushing his toddler son's teeth in the bathroom at home

You can protect your oral health by taking care of your teeth every day:

  • Brush twice a day for two minutes each time using a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. Parents should help young children brush.
  • Floss daily to clean between teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods and limit sugary snacks and drinks.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid smoking or vaping.
  • Visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.

Dental care programs

If you cannot afford the cost of dental care, there are programs that may be able to help.

Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO)

Healthy Smiles Ontario CardPublic Health provides free dental care to children and youth aged 17 and under through the Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) program. It’s very important to start seeing a dentist when your child is 12 months old and to keep going regularly.

Who: Children and youth 17 and under from families with limited income

How to apply: Call our dental line at 1-800-265-7293 ext. 2661 to apply. Children who are enrolled will receive the card pictured here.

What is covered: Preventative, routine and emergency dental services

Visit wdgpublichealth.ca/HSO or ontario.ca/healthysmiles for more information.

Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP)

Sample seniors dental cardThe Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) offers free dental care for eligible seniors.

Who: Ontario seniors age 65 and older who:

  • have an annual net income up to $22,200 for a single person or a combined annual net income up to $37,100 for couples, and
  • have no other form of dental benefits or insurance

How to apply: Apply online or print and mail an application form. Call our dental line at 1-800-265-7293 ext. 2661 for help.

What is covered: Routine dental services, like check-ups, x-rays, cavities, etc.

For more information, visit wdgpublichealth.ca/seniors-dental or Dental care for low-income seniors.

Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP) *New in 2024*

Canadian Dental Care Plan poster image

The Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP) is a federal government program to help eligible Canadians afford the cost of dental care.

Who: Eligible Canadians who:

  • do not have access to dental insurance
  • have an adjusted family net income of less than $90,000
  • are a Canadian resident for tax purposes
  • have filed their tax return in the previous year

Find out if you or someone you care for qualifies for the CDCP.

When can I apply: The CDCP is opening up in phases starting with seniors. All eligible Canadians will be able to apply online in 2025.

How to apply: Seniors who are eligible will receive a letter with a personal application code. Starting in May 2024, those who are eligible will be able to apply online. Check back to the CDCP website for more information about when online applications will be available.

What is covered: Those who qualify will get a welcome package within 3 months that includes coverage details and the date your plan starts.

Access to affordable dental care is essential for maintaining good oral health and overall well-being. These programs can help individuals and families get the dental care they need without worrying about the cost, because everyone deserves a healthy smile.