As many as 40 per cent of families who are eligible for dental care through the Healthy Kids Dental Program are not using the program.

As many as 40 per cent of families who are eligible for dental care through the Healthy Kids Dental Program are not using the program.

Children’s dental care available

low-cost dental care

Families may be letting their children go without dental care or paying for dental services that are covered under the Healthy Kids Dental Program. The program is a provincial government initiative to help low-income families with the cost of dental care.  The clients pays a portion of the bill, the difference between the B.C. Dental Association  charge and the amount eligible for government coverage. Any family which has MSP premiums subsidized is automatically put on the program.

“About 40 per cent of the people who could use the program are not using it. They may not know they are eligible. They put off getting dental care for their children because of the bills,” said Sharon Melanson, a UBCO master’s degree student in interdisciplinary graduate studies, who is doing her thesis on people’s experience with the program.

Melanson, a dental hygienist with a B.Sc. in dental health, spent 25 years as a public hygienist where she worked in dental care education.

“I was often contacted by parents who were having trouble getting dental care for their children because of the cost but we weren’t able to help them. I knew that we were hearing only from the worst cases where people were desperate and that the program was working well for some people. I wanted to get a better, more balanced view of how it was working,” she said.

Melanson was active in helping the Kelowna Gospel Mission Dental Clinic (low-cost dental care) open in 2004 and was named a winner of the  Kelowna 2005 Women in Health, Wellness and Active Living award for her work.

She has done a number of interviews and still wants to do some more before she writes her thesis. As is usual for research, people who take part in the interviews have their privacy protected and information is coded so that nothing personal is revealed. Participants are paid for their time.

“The ethics board of the university controls research carefully. I want to do this research to get the parents’ voice, which is often not heard and to find out if there are any barriers to getting dental care that are not being heard and considered,” said Melanson.

She would like to see the information she collects used in publications and presentations to raise awareness and hopes that at some point it could be discussed at policy level to help ensure that all children get proper dental care. There have recently been changes and cuts to provincial dental services for low income people. Dental care is totally outside of the Canada Health Act which leaves many low-income people with little or no means to get dental care.

“I hope this gets used as a reference by people who want to change or inform policy. I don’t know of any other research on the program in the province.”

Melanson still requires a number of people to interview. For more information, contact her at 250-546-9196 or e-mail smelanson77@gmail.com.

People who want to check if they are covered by the Healthy Kids Dental Plan can ask their dentist’s office to check or call 1-866-866-0800 or see www.mhr.gov.bc.ca/publicat/bcea/HealthyKids.htm.