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Dental hygienists are expecting a surge of bookings from uninsured Canadians who may need extensive dental work and multiple sessions.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Dental hygienists are preparing for an influx of Canadians who haven’t been able to afford to have their teeth professionally cleaned for years – or even decades – when the federal dental plan rolls out.

They say they are expecting a surge of bookings from uninsured Canadians who may need extensive dental work and multiple cleaning sessions to deal with plaque and advanced gum disease.

In last month’s budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled a dental-care plan for up to nine million uninsured Canadians with a household income of less than $90,000 a year.

The $13-billion Canadian Dental Care Plan is costing almost twice as much as originally planned by the Liberal government, and has an extra $7.3-billion price tag attached.

The NDP made dental coverage for uninsured Canadians a condition of their confidence and supply deal with the Liberals to keep them in power until 2025.

The first phase of the plan for children under 12 years old was set up last year. It will be expanded to under-18s, seniors and disabled people this year, with full implementation of the plan covering other adults by 2025. The Quebec government has indicated it may want to opt out of the plan, and receive compensation for doing so.

Sylvie Martel, director of dental hygiene practice at the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, said the program would likely cost more at the beginning because of an influx of people whose teeth require extensive cleaning and dental work, including for cavities, extractions and dentures.

“Everybody is under the understanding that the first couple of years of the program, if you have an influx of those patients that have not seen a dentist for five, 10 or 15 or 20 years, or ever, there will be an extra cost to the program at the startup, but it should over time go down,” she said at a news conference.

She said people who have not visited a dental hygienist for a number of years may need an appointment of up to four hours, possibly in several sessions.

Canadian Dental Association president Lynn Tomkins said “we expect that dentists will see more patients who require a lot of dental treatment and have not been to the dentist before.”

Don Davies, NDP health critic, said the plan was meeting a “chronic unmet primary health care” need.

He said he wanted to see free dental care expanded even further, including federal help for people who may have some insurance but not enough to cover their family dental bills.

He said the program’s extra $7.3-billion cost was partly owing to recalculating the number of people without insurance and the number of people who would qualify for help, as many people lost work during the pandemic.

Ondina Love, chief executive officer of the hygienists’ association, told The Globe and Mail there are enough hygienists in Canada overall to deal with the influx of people booking to have their teeth professionally cleaned. But she said there may be a shortage in some remote regions.

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