Colonial Extractions: Oral Health Care & Indigenous People in Canada, 1945-1979
Indigenous Peoples in Canada currently experience much higher rates of oral health problems than their non-Indigenous counterparts. A number of recent reports have shown that Indigenous children have very high rates of tooth decay, that large numbers of Indigenous people report experiencing ongoing and persistent pain in their mouths, and that significantly more Indigenous people than non-Indigenous Canadians have no teeth at all. These oral health inequalities are important, not just because they have a profound impact on Indigenous Peoples’ quality of life but also because poor oral health is linked to other health issues that currently disproportionately impact Indigenous communities, including diabetes and heart disease. From 1945 to 1979, the federal government made only limited attempts to provide oral health care to Indigenous Peoples despite treaty promises of health care. The government did not believe that it had any obligation to provide oral health care, and as a result, the services provided were rushed, inadequate, inconsistent, and sometimes cruel. Indigenous Peoples experienced much higher levels of tooth extractions and lower rates of denture provision than was the case among non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, with ongoing consequences for their oral health today.