DR. DENNIS CURRY: Singh’s bet on dental health could cement his legacy

DR. DENNIS CURRY • Guest review

Dr. Dennis Curry is a resident physician in psychiatry. He graduated from Dalhousie University in 2021 and practices in London, Ontario. Subscribe to his newsletter on: https://denniscurry.substack.com/

Jagmeet Singh is by no means politically impressive. He was largely irrelevant in the years after he took over as federal NDP leader, after his predecessor, Thomas Mulcair, provided a strong opposition presence. But political fortunes often change and now may be the time for Singh.

The leader of the NDP, who just months ago struck a deal to support Justin Trudeau’s minority government, has now issued a new cautionary tale for his party’s support: roll out universal dental care by end of the year or our arrangement is over.

Brave? Opportunistic? We do not care?

I have been a strong advocate for universal dental care for years. Why? Much like investing in selecting and training good teachers and police, it would only save money in the long run and help build a better society.

Lack of funding for dental care is a major blind spot in a country whose identity is so invested in healthcare, despite the fact that the system is badly failing on many other levels. The list of problems is long.

We do not have a national electronic medical records system. We are experiencing a disaster related to the closure of emergency rooms. We are still overcharged on drug prices despite the favorable position we occupy compared to our neighbors to the south. Long-term care, housing, and addictions medicine all have significant gaps. Access to mental health care is atrocious and many are dying or living with chronic unmitigated illness because of it. Worse still, the quality of mental health care you receive, at least in Nova Scotia, depends on where you live.

Access to primary care is another embarrassing lack. Many Canadians do not have a family doctor; they rely on walk-in clinics or ERs for every need, and it ultimately costs us all.

So much for the Canada Health Act and its basic principles.

These issues are daunting, but dental care should indeed be a priority. Dental crises are among the most painful a patient can endure. Apart from emergencies, the costs of elective cosmetic dentistry are extremely high. But so do the costs associated with poor dental hygiene and poor upbringing – for the individual and society at large.

We do an adequate job of covering costs for children, the demographic most at risk of social implications associated with poor dental health. But we should meet this standard for everyone, regardless of age.

Additionally, there is an overlap between patients’ lack of dental care and mental health, well-being and self-esteem. Not to mention the interpersonal and, of course, psychological stress that dental practitioners face on a daily basis to meet the needs of patients who cannot cover the costs.

In the small town where I grew up, some of the exemplary dentists personally underwrote these costs in order to maintain a standard of care. It is not fair. As in other areas of medicine, these costs should be borne by all of us.

We can do better in all areas of our health care system. But dental care is something that our population needs. It is time to stand up and do this important legislative work.

As far as Singh can move the needle, hats off to him. He will never be Prime Minister, fortunately. But he may have a political legacy worth more than supporting a lackluster, broken and corrupt Liberal government. On this issue, Singh is fortunate to dovetail beautifully with the NDP’s historic and consistent work in advancing universal health care.

Hopefully the fire he’s trying to light under Trudeau’s feet changes the dynamic and opens a new chapter. It was time.