“Too painful:” More than 1,000 Nunavut children are on the waiting list for dental surgery
Nunavut Iqaluit-A Nunavut woman said her 12-year-old son lost 15 pounds this year while waiting for a tooth extraction.
The boy from Rankin Inlet was recently one of more than 1,000 children on the waiting list for dental surgery in the Territory.
“He cried day and night and stopped eating,” the woman who asked not to be named told the Canadian Press.
“As a mother, watching her child suffer for months is a very difficult experience.”
She said a dentist in the community told her in February that her son Howard had a decayed tooth that needed to be removed. The staff anesthetized the boy’s mouth and prepared to remove his teeth, but he was too nervous to remain still.
Suggest that he fly to Winnipeg, where he can be sedated.
But his mother said that the referral has not yet been completed. In May, another dentist at the Rankin Inlet Clinic tried to extract the tooth, but was unsuccessful. He was referred to Winnipeg, and he was sent home to treat the pain with antibiotics.
“The hardest thing to hear from a 12-year-old kid is when they say,’Mom, it hurts. I’d rather die. I’m tired of hurting,” the lady said.
Ronald Kelly, Director of Oral Health in Nunavut, said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the waiting list for children in need of dental surgery was about 500.
It doubled after COVID-19 struck and stopped travel in the area.
There are three private dental clinics in Nunavut-two in Iqaluit and one in Rankin Bay. The dental team takes turns to fly to 23 other communities in the area throughout the year. Between these scheduled visits, residents need to travel to receive specialist care.
The only hospital in the area is in Iqaluit, and it is the only place where general anesthesia can be performed. Children living in western Nunavut are also often sent to Churchill in Marne for dental surgery.
Kelly said that in a typical week, the hospital will receive about 20 children for dental surgery, most of whom are under 5 years old.
“During COVID, we can hardly provide hospital services for these children.”
As travel restrictions have been relaxed, the territory has been restored as planned, but still faces a backlog. Kelly said that Iqaluit and Churchill’s hospitals have made appointments for the children for a few extra weeks to see a surgeon.
The Inuit Oral Health Survey conducted by Nunavut Tunngavik from 2008 to 2009 found that 85% of Inuit children between the ages of 3 and 5 had one or more cavities. Approximately 97% of people aged 12 to 17 have at least one tooth affected by tooth decay.
It pointed out that language barriers, food insecurity, overcrowded housing, and lower access to health care in other parts of the country are factors that have a negative impact on the health of the Inuit.
Nationally, the Canadian Dental Association stated that in 2010, approximately 24% of children had at least one tooth decay.
A spokesperson for the association said that waiting lists for general anesthesia across Canada can range from one week to one year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected access to dental care, especially in hospitals or surgical centers, as many operations have been cancelled to transfer staff to support people who are seriously ill due to COVID-19.”
Five years ago, the health department in Nunavut established a dental plan specifically to provide preventive services for children.
Kelly said the plan helped narrow the waiting list before the pandemic.
Elisapee Kalluk said her two children at Pond Inlet have been waiting for surgery for a year. Her 15-year-old had multiple cavities, and her 3-year-old had a broken tooth.
Kalluk said her eldest son took Tylenol to relieve her tooth pain, but it did not help.
“She has been in pain. She often cries,” Karuk said.
“When she is really in pain, I don’t know what to do.”
On Monday, Howard’s mother said that his tooth was finally pulled out at Rankin Inlet’s new dental clinic.
He has no pain anymore.
“Howard laughed again,” she said.
The Canadian Press report was first published on July 4, 2021.
This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Journalism Scholarship