Territorial Dental Officer Ronald Kelly believes access to dental services is “quite good” considering the remoteness of northern communities.
Every community has been allocated a certain number of days of dental service a year, he said. The number of trips to each community varies according to the size of the community. Denturists may have 20 to 40 service days and between two-to-four trips per year.
The larger the community, the greater the number of service days and trips, explained Kelly, adding that additional service days are often provided depending on community needs.
“It is sufficient for routine dental care,” stated Kelly, referring to the number of visits made by dentists to communities.
“In terms of emergency care, the only sufficient thing is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you have an emergency and there’s no dentist in your community, it seems like you don’t have enough service.”
When no dentist is available, individuals can alleviate tooth-related pain by visiting the community health centre. In cases of serious emergencies or immediate treatments, evacuations from the community to a dental facility can be arranged.
All Nunavut Inuit are eligible for the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB), stated Kelly. This means emergency travel from the community and treatment for dental are free of charge.
There is no cost for basic dental care; fillings, examinations, cleaning, X-rays, root canals, crowns, orthodontics and oral surgery;
since they are all covered by the NIHB, said Kelly.
Mechanisms are in place to provide dental services for community members, he emphasized.
He also admitted more service days would be good for certain communities but it is challenging.
Considering the remoteness and size of communities, “we can’t provide full-time dental service in every community.
“We just don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”
There are the challenges of travel schedules being affected by bad weather; staff vying for hotel accommodations and space in health centres; and dealing with the expenses and wait times related to repairing or replacing dental equipment, he explained.
Improvements in Dental Care and Services
However, despite all these challenges, “I think what we’re doing is maximizing the opportunities we have,” said Kelly. “We are trying to ensure the best outcomes as possible.”
“We’ve tried hard to make sure we brought in the broadest range of treatment possible for patients.”
The Nunavut Children’s Oral Health Project is providing preventive dental care access to all children up to 12 years. There are positions in every community, for community or health coordinators, to register children for the program and to educate parents about preventive dental care, explained Kelly.
The number of service days in communities has increased in some cases, Kelly said, adding “the number of trips per community has certainly increased.”
More effort is being made to ensure dental services are equally spread across the year.
The GN now runs about 30 dental clinics in the territory.
There are new dental facilities in Arivat, Arctic Bay and Taloyoak. Facilities are also being built in Cape Dorset and Sanikiluaq.
“We’ve been working to enhance the physical setup of all our dental clinics,” said Kelly.
According to him, there is state of the art panoramic X-ray equipment in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay.
“These are expensive installations, they’re modern digital machines that are good for any type of dental services being provided.”
“The equipment is good, if it’s not good we’re working at making it better.”
Another improvement has been in hiring experienced dentists for contract work. For “any dentist wishing to work with one of the contractors to supply services in the communities, the contracts stipulate that five years of experience is required in order to be employed by the contractor,” explained Kelly.
It is expected that a dentist is qualified to provide “all but the most difficult services.”
With lots of service days, state of the art facilities and competent dentists, “I’m not sure what else we can do to make services better,” said Kelly.