More people to have quicker access to dental surgery in B.C.

Adrian Dix
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

HOSPITALS in B.C. will perform 900 more dental surgeries in the coming year to improve access to care for vulnerable children and adults, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on Monday.

This represents the largest one-time increase in dental surgery ever in British Columbia. The total number of surgeries will grow by 15%, from 6,200 in 2017-18 to 7,100 in 2018-19. The increase in surgeries will support children and adults throughout B.C. who require general anesthetic for their dental procedures, e.g., due to developmental disabilities or complex medical conditions. The result will be a substantial reduction in wait times for people currently suffering in pain.

“We are answering a call from dentists, patients and parents to fix a growing waitlist and make sure that vulnerable people – who are not safely able to get dental care without anesthesia  – have more timely access to dental treatment when they need it,” said Dix. “I have heard from parents whose sons and daughters are suffering for long periods in pain, in some cases without any understanding of what is happening to them. This is something we need to address, and that is why we are taking action today.”

In 2016-17 17.3% of people waited more than 26 weeks for their dental surgery. That number already has decreased to 15% this year. The additional surgeries to take place this year will significantly improve access and the time people wait.

In addition to increasing access to dental surgeries, over the next year, the ministry will work in partnership with the BC Dental Association to better inform wait-time guidelines and protocols that the ministry will use to further improve timely access for patients that require dental care in a hospital setting in 2018-19.

“On behalf of B.C. dentists, thank you for improving access to care for children and adults with disabilities,” said Jocelyn Johnston, Executive Director of the BC Dental Association. “Dental disease does not resolve itself, which leaves patients in chronic pain. Many of these patients require medical support, such as access to an operating room, for the safe delivery of care. Improved access will allow these patients to resume life free from dental pain and infection.”

Dental care ranges from preventive care to fillings, root canals, tooth extractions and dental prosthetics, such as crowns or dentures. These are most often provided in dental offices under local anesthesia or sedation. For some patients, including those with developmental disabilities, general anesthesia is required to ensure the patient’s safety and comfort during their dental care, even for scaling and polishing of teeth.

“Dental care is essential for good health and quality of life,” said Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of Inclusion BC. “Recognizing those with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, need more access for dental care that can better accommodate their physical needs is long overdue. More dental surgeries in a timely manner is a step in the right direction.”

“It is not acceptable that British Columbians are waiting in chronic pain for dental treatment. Today’s announcement will improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and others who need dental surgery. This is a positive change,” said Jane Dyson, Executive Director of Disability Alliance BC. “We are also encouraged to see that work will be done over the next year on wait time guidelines to improve the timely access for dental surgery. Over the coming months, we look forward to seeing the outcomes of this increased funding for dental surgery.”

The work that will be undertaken over the coming year in collaboration with the BC Dental Association will lead to further improvements in 2019-20. These surgeries take place in all health authorities with the Provincial Services Health Authority having two dedicated operating rooms specifically for dental surgeries at the Teck Acute Care Centre.