The federal government hopes to avoid gumming up the works of its new dental-insurance plan by gradually phasing in enrolment over the course of the next year, Health Minister Mark Holland said Monday. 

Seniors over the age of 87 will be the first cohort to be able to apply to join a new federal dental-insurance plan. 

It will be slowly expanded over the course of 2024 to include all qualifying seniors, children under the age of 18 and people with disabilities.

Holland announced the rollout of the program, which is currently budgeted to cost $13 billion over the next five years, at a news conference at a dental clinic at Algonquin College in Ottawa. 

The program is aimed at people with an annual household income under $90,000 who don't have access to private insurance.

"Far too many people have avoided getting the care that they need simply because it was too expensive, and that’s why this plan is essential," Holland said. As many as nine million Canadians lack private coverage, he added.

There has been "enormous additional cost" to the health system — to say nothing of a person's own dignity — when people have to wait until their oral health is so dire that they have to get treatment at the emergency room, Holland said.

"We know we can do better."

Coverage will include preventive, diagnostic, restorative and surgical services — including X-rays, fillings, root canal treatments and dentures, among others, he said. 

Once eligibility is expanded to all qualifying Canadian residents in 2025, it will be the government's largest social program. 

"This is a proud moment, I think for all Canadians, in expanding what is the definition of health care in Canada," said Holland.

The insurance plan is a key pillar in the Liberal's supply-and-confidence deal with the New Democrats to secure the opposition party's support on key votes. 

The NDP lauded the news in a statement Monday, styling the plan as "the NDP national dental care program." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2023.