Objectives: To test the hypotheses that socially marginalised Canadians are more likely to prefer seeking dental care in a public rather than private setting, and that Canadian dentists are more likely to prefer public dental care plans that approximate private insurance processes.
Methods: Data on public opinion were collected through a weekly national omnibus survey based on random digit dialling and telephone interview technology (n = 1005, >18 years). Data on professional opinion were collected through a national mail-out survey of a random selection of Canadian dentists (n = 2219, response rate = 45.8%). Dental and socio-demographic data were collected for the public, as were professional demographic data for dentists. Descriptive and basic regression analyses were undertaken.
Results: The majority of Canadians surveyed, 66.4%, prefer to seek dental care in a private setting, 19% in a community clinic, and 7.6% in a dental school; those that are younger and of lowest incomes are most likely to prefer seeking dental care in a public setting. Most Canadian dentists, 80.9%, believe that governments should be involved in dental care, yet only 46% believe this role should include direct delivery. A third of dentists have also reduced the amount of publicly insured patients in their practice. Canadian dentists are more likely to prefer those public plans that most closely reflect private insurance mechanisms.
Conclusion: There appears to be a policy disconnect between the preferences of those populations where governmental involvement is most warranted, and the current mechanisms for financing and delivering dental care in Canada. By concentrating almost exclusively on third-party-type financing and indirect delivery, public dental care policy may not be adequately responding to those most in need, especially in an environment where dentists are largely dissatisfied with public plans.