Nunavut’s Children’s Dental Surgery Wait List Doubles to 1,000
A woman from Nunavut says her 12-year-old son has lost 15 pounds while waiting for a tooth to be removed this year.
The boy from Rankin Inlet was recently one of more than 1,000 children on the territory’s waiting list for dental surgery.
“He cried day and night, he stopped eating,” the woman, who did not want to be identified, told The Canadian Press.
“As a mother watching her child suffer for months on end is such a difficult experience.”
She said a community dentist told her in February that her son, Howard, had a decayed tooth that needed to be extracted. The staff numbed the boy’s mouth and prepared to remove the tooth, but he was too nervous and could not stand still.
It was recommended that he be airlifted to Winnipeg, where he could be placed under sedation.
But the dismissal has not been completed, his mother said. In May, another dentist at the Rankin Inlet clinic tried unsuccessfully to remove the tooth. A referral was made to Winnipeg and he was sent home with antibiotics for the pain.
“The hardest thing to hear from a kid who is only 12 is when he says, ‘Mom, that hurts so much. I’d rather die. I’m sick of being in pain,’ the woman said.
The waiting list doubled during the pandemic
Ronald Kelly, director of oral health for Nunavut, said the wait list for children requiring dental surgery was around 500 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the COVID-19 hit and the stopping of travel in the territory, it doubled.
There are three private dental clinics in Nunavut – two in Iqaluit and a new one in Rankin Inlet. Dental teams visit the 23 other communities in the territory on a rotating schedule throughout the year. Between these scheduled visits, residents must travel to receive specialized care.
The only hospital in the territory, in Iqaluit, is the only place where general anesthesia can be given. Children living in western Nunavut are also regularly sent to Churchill, Manitoba for dental surgery.
In a typical week, Kelly said the hospital would see around 20 children for dental surgery, most of them under the age of five.
“During COVID, we had virtually no access to hospital services for these children.”
The territory is back on schedule now that travel restrictions have eased, but it faces a backlog. Additional weeks have been set aside at hospitals in Iqaluit and Churchill for children to see surgeons, Kelly said.
Common tooth decay
The Inuit Oral Health Survey, conducted by Nunavut Tunngavik from 2008 to 2009, found that 85% of Inuit children aged three to five had one or more cavities. And about 97 percent of people ages 12 to 17 had at least one tooth affected by decay.
He pointed out that language barriers, food insecurity, overcrowded housing and poorer access to health care than in the rest of the country were factors that affect the health of Inuit.
Nationally, the Canadian Dental Association said about 24% of children had at least one decayed tooth in 2010.
A spokesperson for the association said wait lists for general anesthesia can range from a week to a year across Canada.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to dentistry which is particularly practiced in hospitals or surgical centers, as many surgeries have been canceled to divert staff to support those critically ill from COVID- 19. “
Five years ago, the Nunavut Department of Health created a dental program that provides preventative services specifically for children.
Before the pandemic, Kelly said, the program helped reduce the waiting list.
“She cries often”
Elisapee Kalluk said her two children from Pond Inlet have been awaiting surgery for a year. Her 15-year-old daughter has multiple cavities and her three-year-old daughter has a broken tooth.
Kalluk said her older child was taking Tylenol to ease her toothache, but it didn’t help.
“She has suffered so much. She cries a lot,” Kalluk said. “I don’t know what to do when she’s in real pain.”
Howard’s mother said last Monday her tooth was finally removed at the new dental clinic in Rankin Inlet.
He is no longer in pain.
“Howard is smiling again,” she said.