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Federal policies undermine Indigenous dental health – Policy Options

October 5, 2018

The government’s Indigenous dental health program is ignoring the role its policies played in causing Indigenous-non-Indigenous dental health disparities.

Starting in 2016, a Cree child’s struggle to get braces became national news. Thirteen-year-old Josey Willier from the Sucker Creek First Nation suffered from chronic pain from her crooked teeth. Her dentist said that she needed braces to avoid more expensive and invasive surgery in the future, but the federal government, which administers the program that provides dental benefits for First Nations and Inuit people, denied her claim. The family took the government to court, and the government spent $100,000 on lawyers defending its decision to deny the $8,000 procedure. Finally, just before the Federal Court of Appeal was to decide the case, the government settled with the family. In July 2018, the government expanded eligibility for orthodontic treatment.

Even with this step forward, the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program constantly frustrates both patients and service providers, remains inefficient and inconsistent, and fails to address the underlying causes of poor oral health among Indigenous people.

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