Skip to content

Comment: The value of patient choice: Why the freedom to select your dentist matters

We are concerned about several aspects of the government’s plan, particularly that many patients will not have the freedom to choose their own dentist.
A dentist works on a patient’s teeth. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary. Wolanski is the president of the B.C. Dental Association, where Mathiesen-Newcomb is the CEO.

The federal government’s announcement that millions of people will soon have access to oral health care through the Canadian Dental Care Plan came as welcome news to many.

As the voice of B.C. dentists, the B.C. Dental Association has promoted the proven relationship between oral and general health for decades.

The dental care plan represents an unprecedented opportunity to improve the overall health of Canadians — if it is done right.

However, we are concerned about several aspects of the government’s plan, particularly that many patients covered under CDCP will not have the freedom to choose their own dentist.

The plan is designed in such a way that oral health providers (e.g. dentists) must agree to participate in the plan to be paid by government for the care they provide to eligible patients.

Patients will not be allowed to pay their dentist directly and then seek reimbursement from the government. Patients covered by the plan will not need to submit claims and seek repayment, but they will only be covered for dental care they receive from participating providers.

As a result, many people who have been seeing their dentist for years will be forced to find a different dentist, possibly hours away.

In the realm of health care, the significance of patient autonomy cannot be overstated. From selecting a primary care physician to choosing specialists, people cherish the ability to make informed decisions about their health-care providers.

Dentistry, often overlooked in discussions of patient choice, is equally vital to overall well-being. The capacity to select one’s dentist holds profound importance, impacting not only oral health but also overall satisfaction and confidence in oral health-care experiences.

The relationship between a patient and their dentist is unique, characterized by trust, communication, and mutual respect. When patients have the freedom to choose their dentist, they can seek out professionals who align with their individual needs, preferences and values.

One of the primary benefits of choosing a dentist lies in the establishment of a personalized treatment approach. Every patient has unique oral-health concerns, ranging from routine cleanings and preventive care to complex restorative procedures.

Beyond clinical expertise, the interpersonal dynamics between a patient and their dentist significantly influence the overall treatment experience.

Many people experience anxiety or fear when visiting the dentist, often stemming from past negative experiences or trauma. In such cases, allowing patients to continue getting care from a dentist with whom they have a trusted relationship can make a world of difference.

Moreover, for individuals with specific cultural or linguistic backgrounds, choosing a dentist who understands their unique needs can enhance the quality of care received.

Effective communication is essential in health-care interactions, and having a dentist who speaks the same language or is sensitive to cultural nuances can facilitate clearer exchanges of information and foster trust.

While the plan represents an opportunity to increase access to oral health care, especially for vulnerable populations, it must be done right and it must respect patient choice.

If a patient covered by the plan sees a dentist who has agreed to participate in the plan, the dentist will be paid directly by government. However, if that dentist has opted not to participate in the plan for various reasons, then the patient should be able to pay for the care they receive and be reimbursed by the government.

Enabling patients to pay and seek reimbursement is essential to give them freedom of choice, while also respecting that patients who are unwilling or unable to pay can choose a provider who has agreed to participate.

This will not only allow patient choice, but it will also enable thousands of dentists to treat patients covered by the plan.

Given that some nine million people in Canada will be eligible under the plan, and many will not have seen a dentist in years (or ever), reducing the barriers for dentists to provide care will be the key to success.

Ultimately, the ability to choose one’s dentist is a fundamental aspect of patient-centred care. By empowering individuals to select their dentist, we can enhance the quality of oral health-care delivery and promote positive outcomes for patients.

Embracing patient choice in dentistry is not only a testament to respect for autonomy, but also a pathway to healthier smiles and happier patients.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]