Canada is known for its universal health care system, ranked 10th overall in the world. This system ensures that anyone needing emergency care can receive it for no charge. This is in contrast to Canada’s southern neighbors, the USA, where healthcare costs are extremely high. Some people might be surprised to learn that dental care is not part of this universal healthcare system. In fact, dental care can be very expensive in Canada.
While many Canadians have coverage through public or private insurance, including through their workplace, dental care is rarely completely covered. In fact, Canadians on average spend about $378.60 per year on dental care services. While this might not seem that high, remember that it is average, so some people are spending significantly more.
It may also be the case that this number is under-represented. There are many people who may actually avoid seeking dental care because they cannot afford it. This CBC article highlights the expense of dental care and how some people avoid going because they just can’t afford it. Therefore, Canadians would likely spend more per annum, but are avoiding some treatments due to not being able to pay. According to a 2019 study, 22.4% of Canadians have avoided going to the dentist because of the cost.
So, why is it so expensive? Why isn’t dental care part of the universal healthcare system? How do Canadians pay for dental care? These are a few questions that we will look at to understand why dental care is so expensive in Canada.
Why is Dental Care so Expensive?
Simply put, dental care in Canada is so expensive because it is not part of the public universal healthcare system. It exists separately from the system that provides free healthcare to Canadians and permanent residents. So, while a Canadian can walk into an ER and receive free treatment for an emergency situation, they cannot walk into a dentist and provide free care, even if it is emergent like a root canal.
So, because it’s not covered under the system, people have to pay the full price of treatment (unless they have other insurance, which we will cover below). This website lists the average cost of dental care in Canada:
- Large tooth filling: $325
- Root canal: $800
- Dental crown: $1,625
- Invisalign braces: $7,249
- Dental exam: $133
As you can see, if you need a few treatments, you can easily be spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on dental care. There are standard fees, however, so dentists can not individually just increase prices. Generally, each province will set its fee standards for all dentists to follow. For example, the BC Dental Association or the Ontario Dental Association set the fees for their respective provinces.
Is Dental Care Covered by the Government?
In general, dental care is not part of the universal healthcare system, which is called the Canada Health Act. As discussed, this means that patients have to either pay out-of-pocket for the full cost of the service, unless they have insurance.
There are, however, government dental programs that can help cover some of the costs. These programs are managed by each Canadian province, so they will vary based on where you live. This website provides a summary of the government dental programs.
To qualify for government programs, people need to meet certain qualifications such as being eligible for disability or income assistant or qualify as a person with multiple barriers. These grant programs help a small population of people, but the general population does not have access to government help to pay for dental care.
How do Canadians Pay for Dental Care?
Since dental care is expensive in Canada, and it’s not covered by the Health Care Act, many Canadians have insurance or other coverage to help pay for their dental treatments. Here are the main ways Canadians pay for dental care:
- Out-of-pocket: If you don’t have any insurance, you need to pay for your dental care in full. Approximately 32% of Canadians do not have dental insurance and therefore pay for their treatments in full.
- Government-subsidized programs, as previously discussed.
- Third-party insurance: This refers to insurance related to employment that covers dental and other services, typically eye care, massage therapy, and other specialized services not included under the Health Care Act. Employer insurance typically covers partial expenses or full expenses up to a maximum amount per year. Insurance plans can differ significantly between employers.
- Private dental insurance: If you don’t have coverage from an employer, there is an option to purchase private insurance. Private insurance is purchased through a company like Manulife or Pacific Blue Cross and can also vary quite a bit depending on what kind of insurance you buy.
- Dental tourism: This is not as common, but there is a growing number of people going abroad for dental care. The reason for this is that it can be cheaper to get expensive dental treatments in another country than Canada. A study from 2016 showed that nearly 64,000 Canadians went abroad as medical tourists. This isn’t strictly dental care but gives an idea of how popular this option is.
If you live in Canada, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of having to pay for dental care at some point in your life. It can be expensive and a significant expense that is worrisome for some people. Visitors, tourists, and immigrants to Canada also need to be aware that dental care is not covered in the system and additional insurance should be considered to have coverage for a dental emergency when in Canada.
Dental care is so expensive in Canada because it is not covered under the Health Care Act. Therefore, people have the option to pay out of pocket if they don’t have private or employer-provided insurance. Some people might qualify for government assistance, but this is a small section of the population. Overall, dental care is important to consider when budgeting and accounting for different expenses in Canada.