Health Canada doesn't know if its dental programs benefiting Indigenous Canadians: report

Health Canada doesn't know if its dental programs benefiting Indigenous Canadians: report
From CBC - November 22, 2017

Health Canada does not know whether its dental programming for Indigenous Canadians is actually improving their oral health.

That's one of the findings of the auditor general of Canada's fall 2017 report, released on Tuesday.

Michael Ferguson said First Nations and Inuit populations have nearly twice as much dental disease as other Canadians.

Ferguson's audit sought to determine whether Health Canada had "reasonable assurance" that its oral health programs for Indigenous people were having a positive effect on their oral health.

"We found that Health Canada had known for many years that the oral health of First Nations and Inuit populations was much poorer than that of other Canadians," Ferguson's report says.

"However, the department had not finalized a strategic approach to help reduce those differences."

Ferguson said poor oral health in Inuit and First Nations populations is linked to factors such as fewer regular dental visits, less access to affordable and nutritious food, higher rates of smoking and education level.

Number of children being helped declining

Ferguson focussed on Canada's Non-Insured Health Benefits Program, which provides coverage to registered First Nations and recognized Inuit for a limited range of health-related services not covered by private or provincial/territorial health programs, such as root canals, X-rays, tooth extractions, dentures and fillings.

"We found that Health Canada monitored and analyzed the dental benefits paid for by the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program. However, the department did not know how much of a difference it was making to Inuit and First Nations people's oral health," the report reads.

Ferguson found there were "administrative weaknesses" in Health Canada's management of the program.

The auditor general also looked into the Children's Oral Health Initiative, which aims to reduce and prevent oral disease in youth, including fluoride treatments for children, and better education for parents and pregnant women.

According to Health Canada, the initiative was provided in 238 of 452 eligible First Nations and Inuit communities last year.

Ferguson found that while the children's initiative did help some children to improve oral health, enrolment in the initiative has declined, as well as the number of services deliveredand Health Canada does not know why.

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