SIOUX LOOKOUT, Ont. — The federal government is speaking out for the first time about allegations it has failed to provide adequate dental services to First Nations in the Sioux Lookout region.
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) issued a statement Monday evening in response to charges last week by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) and area Chiefs that government inaction has created a dental crisis.
The federal department said it's working with First Nations, SLFNHA, other health partners and Ontario to support and improve dental services.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it said, ISC's Non-Insured Health Benefits program has continued to provide coverage for dental care including medical transportation expenses for patients needing service outside their community.
However, early in the pandemic, dental services across Ontario were limited to urgent needs only, in accordance with guidance from dental regulators and public health authorities.
As regulatory guidance evolved, ISC said, it began to safely increase service levels in communities through contracted dental professionals, and noted that "since November 2020, service levels have continued to increase."
It cited the period between Nov. 4, 2020 and Jun. 2, 2021, when dentists and dental hygienists made 89 visits to 26 communities, providing care to nearly 7,200 patients.
"Also from Dec. 2, 2020 to June 17, 2021, 182 children have been treated through the dental surgery program at Meno Ya Win Health Centre in Sioux Lookout."
SLFNHA has accused ISC of backtracking after months of joint planning for a new dental clinic to replace an aging facility in Sioux Lookout.
ISC said formal talks with SLFNHA about transferring all direct patient dental care to them were forcibly halted by the pandemic, but those negotiations have since resumed, with the most recent meetings being held on June 4 and June 18.
"ISC continues to work with SLFNHA to explore options for the health authority to establish a facility," it said.