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Public Dental Benefits in Canada: Learn About Health Care Coverage

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Posted Jan 26th, 2024 in General Dentistry, General Dentistry Services

Public Dental Benefits in Canada: Learn About Health Care Coverage

Learn all about the various public benefits that can support residents of Canada — including seniors, children/youth, refugees, low-income people and families, students, Indigenous Peoples, and veterans, — in accessing subsidized dental care.

Canada has a publicly funded health care system, also known as “medicare,” which is funded through taxes and which provides Canadians with access to a wide range of health services. Any Canadian citizen or permanent resident can apply for public health insurance and take advantage of these benefits.

While public health coverage means that you won’t have to pay for most health care services or emergency medical services (note that the services and products covered vary by province/territory), in Canada our public health insurance does not cover the cost of most dental treatments. Most dentists work in independent practices and their services aren’t free. Fortunately, there are government programs designed to help specific people and communities who require support in paying for dental care.

This article will cover the different types of public dental health programs that exist in Canada, the services covered by these programs, and who is eligible for the programs, along with a brief overview of private insurance and how private and public insurance plans may affect one another.

What types of public dental health programs exist in Canada?

All provincial and territorial health care plans (for example, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan [OHIP] or the BC Medical Services Plan [MSP]) cover certain aspects of dental care — such as dental or oral surgery performed in a hospital. Check with your province or territory’s public health authority or your private health care provider to learn more.

The following is a list of all provincial and territorial public health care plans:

Alberta Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP)
British Columbia  Medical Services Plan (MSP)
Manitoba  Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living 
New Brunswick  Medicare
Newfoundland and Labrador Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan (MCP)
Northwest Territories NWT Health Care Plan 
Nova Scotia Nova Scotia Medical Services (MSI) Program 
Nunavut Nunavut Health Care Plan 
Ontario Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)
Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island's Hospital and Medical Services Plan
Quebec  Quebec Health Insurance Plan 
Saskatchewan  Saskatchewan Health Benefits
Yukon  Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan 

In addition, there are a variety of programs available that can subsidize or cover the cost of other dental treatments or services for certain communities, in order to lessen the financial burden and make dental care more accessible. These include federal (nation-wide) programs, provincial and territorial programs, and community-level care (for example, community clinics and non-governmental organizations [NGOs]).

The following chart briefly summarizes the plans and programs offering free or subsidized dental care that are available federally and at the provincial/territorial level for various people and communities. Your eligibility to various programs may overlap depending on which category or categories you identify with. Please see below for more information.

Seniors Children/Youth Refugees Low-income People and Families
Federal (National) Canadian Dental Care Plan  Canada Dental Benefit Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) Canadian Dental Care Plan 
Alberta Dental and Optical Assistance for Seniors N/A (check out the federal option) Alberta Adult Health Benefit
British Columbia N/A (check out the federal option and BC's Medical Services Plan [MSP]) N/A (check out the federal option)
Manitoba University of Manitoba Home Dental Care Program (for people with significantly restricted lifestyles through patient visits in nursing homes, hospitals and other institutional settings)  N/A (check out the federal option) 
New Brunswick N/A (check out the federal option and New Brunswick Medicare)  Healthy Smiles, Clear Vision  N/A (check out the federal option) Health Services Enhanced Dental Program
Newfoundland and Labrador N/A (check out the federal option and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan [MCP]) N/A (check out the federal option) Adult Dental Program
Northwest Territories Extended Health Benefits for Seniors Program N/A (check out the federal option) N/A (check out the federal option and the NWT Health Care Plan)
Nova Scotia N/A (check out the federal option and the Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance [MSI] Program) Children's Oral Health Program (under MSI) Dalhousie University's Immigrant Oral Health Outreach Clinic N/A (check out the federal option and the Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance [MSI] Program)
Nunavut Extended Health Benefits (EHB) (for non-Indigenous residents)  Nunavut Children's Oral Health Project (for grade 7 and under) N/A (check out the federal option) N/A (check out the federal option and the Nunavut Health Care Plan)
Ontario Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) N/A (check out the federal option) Ontario Works Dental Services
Prince Edward Island

Dental Benefits for Ukrainian Evacuees and Government-Assisted Refugees Provincial Dental Care Program
Quebec N/A (check out the federal option and the Quebec Health Insurance Plan Quebec Health Insurance Plan Children's Dental Care Program (certain services covered for children under age 10) Immigrant and Refugee Pediatric Dental Clinic at the Montreal Children's Hospital (for refugee and immigrant children under age 10) Quebec Health Insurance Plan (certain services covered for recipients of a financial assistance program with claim slip)
Saskatchewan Supplementary Health Benefits (residents of special care facilities who are eligible for the Seniors' Income Plan) Syrian Refugee Resettlement Supplemental Coverage / Dental Services
  • Supplementary Health Benefits (for those enrolled in an income support program)
  • Public Health Dental Clinics (provided by Saskatchewan Health Authority; Saskatoon Health Region) 
Yukon N/A (check out the federal option and the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan) N/A (check out the federal option) Yukon Dental Program

Students Indigenous Peoples Veterans
Federal (National) N/A (but note that international students who have paid school tuition are automatically covered by their school’s dental insurance plan) Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) - POC4
Alberta N/A (check out the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan [AHCIP])

N/A (check out the federal option and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan [AHCIP])

N/A (check out the federal option and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan [AHCIP])

British Columbia N/A (check out BC’s Medical Services Plan [MSP]) Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) N/A (check out the federal option and BC's Medical Services Plan [MSP])
Manitoba N/A (check out Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living) N/A (check out the federal option and Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living) N/A (check out the federal option and Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living)
New Brunswick N/A (check out New Brunswick Medicare) N/A (check out the federal option and New Brunswick Medicare) N/A (check out the federal option and New Brunswick Medicare)
Newfoundland and Labrador N/A (check out the federal option and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan [MCP]) N/A (check out the federal option and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan [MCP]) N/A (check out the federal option and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan [MCP])
Northwest Territories N/A (check out the federal option and the NWT Health Care Plan) Métis Health Benefits Program (for eligible Indigenous Métis residents) N/A (check out the federal option and the NWT Health Care Plan)
Nova Scotia N/A (check out the federal option and the Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance [MSI] Program) N/A (check out the federal option and the Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance [MSI] Program) N/A (check out the federal option and the Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance [MSI] Program)
Nunavut N/A (check out the federal option and the Nunavut Health Care Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Nunavut Health Care Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Nunavut Health Care Plan)
Ontario N/A (check out the federal option and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan [OHIP]) Ontario Works Dental Services (for children residing in First Nations communities) N/A (check out the federal option and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan [OHIP])
Prince Edward Island N/A (check out the federal option and Prince Edward Island's Hospital and Medical Services Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and Prince Edward Island's Hospital and Medical Services Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and Prince Edward Island's Hospital and Medical Services Plan)
Quebec N/A (check out the federal option and the Quebec Health Insurance Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Quebec Health Insurance Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Quebec Health Insurance Plan)
Saskatchewan N/A (check out the federal option and Saskatchewan Health Benefits) N/A (check out the federal option and Saskatchewan Health Benefits) N/A (check out the federal option and Saskatchewan Health Benefits)
Yukon N/A (check out the federal option and the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan) N/A (check out the federal option and the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan)

An overview of the services covered through public dental health programs

The dental services covered depend on the specific public dental health program. Often, basic dental services — such as exams, X-rays, fillings, cleanings, extractions, and minor restorations — are covered via various government programs, as outlined in the chart above. Many programs also cover emergency dental care for the relief of pain. Some programs cover orthodontic care, while others may include crown and bridge services as well. It all depends on the specific program and its coverage limitations.

Who is eligible for free or subsidized dental care in Canada?

Eligibility for free or subsidized dental care depends on the specific program. Eligibility factors often include location (while some programs are federal, many are offered at provincial or territorial levels), income level, age, residency or refugee status, and whether or not one is part of a community in need — for example, a student, Indigenous Person, or veteran. These criteria are reflected in the chart above, which outlines various available programs.

Other eligibility criteria may include disability status, victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic violence, immigration detainees held under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and other criteria. Always check the details of each program to determine your eligibility.

See the chart above for more info.

If I’ve benefited from provincial program(s), am I still eligible for federal dental care programs?

People who have benefited from one or more provincial dental care programs may or may not still be eligible for federal dental care programs, such as the Canada Dental Benefit. With the Canada Dental Benefit, for example, if an eligible child's dental costs are fully paid for by another government program with no direct cost to you, those services do not qualify for the Canada Dental Benefit. Check your or your child's eligibility for other programs before you apply for federal programs. You can also call 1-800-715-8836 (Canada Dental Benefit helpline) for more info.

Who can help navigate public benefit programs?

There are many federal and provincial dental care programs available for different groups and demographics, which can make navigating all of the different options a challenge. If you find it overwhelming to find out which program(s) you or your family members may be eligible for, help is available.

You can start by reaching out to your primary provincial or territorial public health care plan provider (see the list above). Health care administrators can help direct you to the plans or programs that may be best-suited to your needs.

The Government of Canada also has a Benefits Finder available, which can help you to pinpoint which services and benefits you may be eligible to receive.

Private insurance

Private health insurance provides supplemental coverage for health care services and treatments that are excluded from the national and provincial/territorial health care plans.

Many Canadian residents (approximately 60%) are covered by private health insurance, which is often a benefit of employment. You may also sign up for and pay for your own private health insurance independently (more on this below). This may be beneficial for those without workplace benefits, such as self-employed individuals and retirees. Having private dental insurance can help you to control your budget and avoid unexpected dental costs that may arise for you or your family.

Since general oral health care is not included in the Canada Health Act, as discussed above, the majority of Canadians receive dental care through privately operated dental clinics and pay for the services either through their private insurance or by paying for it themselves as an out-of-pocket expense.

If you’re covered by private insurance, it may affect your eligibility to use the various public programs outlined above. Contact your private insurance company and your local health authority for details.

To learn more about private insurance, read the guide to private dental insurance in Canada. How do I know if I have private insurance for dental care? If you have private insurance through your employer, you can review the details of your insurance plan to see if it covers dental and what services or treatments are included. If you’re not sure if your workplace offers private medical insurance, check your contract or contact the Human Resources department for details. You may also have private insurance through your spouse, partner, parent, or other family member. Speak with your family to find out if you have coverage.

Can I combine private insurance with public dental health benefit programs?

Many publicly funded dental benefits in Canada, including the Canada Dental Benefit, are only available to people who do not have access to a private dental insurance plan.

However, you may be able to combine private insurance with public dental health benefit programs in some cases.

There are variances depending on the province. Sometimes, the limits for government programs are related to income, rather than to whether the applicant also has access to a private insurance plan. For example, Alberta’s Dental and Optical Assistance for Seniors program’s eligibility requirements specify that applicants must “have an annual income within the limits allowed by the program,” but does not mention lack of access to a private insurance plan as an eligibility requirement. However, sometimes government programs are only available to those with no private insurance. For example, the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) specifies in its eligibility requirements that people can only apply to the program if they “have no other form of dental benefits, including private insurance or dental coverage under another government program such as Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program or Non-Insured Health Benefits.”

Always check with your private insurance company and your local health authority to find out eligibility rules, coverage details, and other important information.

Do I need to have private insurance to access dental care in Canada?

Having access to a private insurance plan is not required in order to access dental care in Canada. Some basic dental care services are covered by all provincial and territorial health care plans (often emergency services provided in-hospital) and further services are covered by various dental programs for select communities, as outlined above. Many programs exist for low-income families, children and youth, Indigenous Peoples, and other groups.

Additionally, many Canadians pay private dental clinics directly for the services and treatments they require for their oral health or that they choose to undergo for aesthetic purposes (such as orthodontics and teeth whitening).

How can I acquire private insurance for dental care services?

If you would like to acquire private insurance for dental care services, check with your employer first to find out if they offer any included benefits or options to sign up for a group health benefit plan.

You may also sign up for and pay for your own private health insurance through a company such as Pacific Blue Cross, which was Canada’s top health insurance provider in 2022. Many other options also exist.

Conclusion

Taking care of your oral health is important. While most dental care services are not covered by Canada’s public health insurance, there are many programs available to help those who require support in paying for dental care. Private insurance is also an option that many Canadians are able to benefit from to ensure they have access to the oral health care that they and their families require.

Learn more about the various programs above and submit an application to those you are eligible for. By taking advantage of the available programs, dental care expenses will be more manageable and you will be able to access the dental coverage and care you require. Visiting an oral health professional shouldn’t be out of reach for any Canadian.

The content provided in this article, including text, graphics, and referenced material, is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your dentist or another qualified oral health professional for questions regarding your dental condition. Never disregard professional dental advice or delay seeking it based on information from this article. If you believe you have a dental emergency, contact your dentist, or seek immediate assistance from an oral healthcare professional.

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