Norwegians need to sink their teeth into health care

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Healthy teeth are part of a person’s overall health, so why doesn’t Norway’s medical system cover it the same way?

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
The Norwegian American

People who live and work in Norway get to benefit from the Norwegian single-payer health care system, which encompasses services ranging from seeing a GP (fastlege) to receiving emergency care or doing specialist appointments, to name a few. However, dental care is not a part of the package. These services do not fall under the umbrella of public health, which is odd considering the otherwise wide range of coverage in the single-payer system.

Norwegian dental care is considered and practiced separate from single-payer health care. In Norway, this system consists of a public sector offering dental services to parts of the population under the Dental Health Act and a private sector that offers dental services to the general population. Here private practice dentists operate in a free-trade system, where each practice may freely choose the pricing for their services as long as these are reported to the Norwegian Consumer Council’s website: hvakostertannlegen, a public price list for dental care.

Although these services are separated, there are many exceptions and most importantly all people get full dental health coverage (except for orthodontist services) until they reach age 18. According to the Ministry of Health, the county must organize preventive measures for the entire population and provide both regular and outreach dental services through the public sector to certain groups in accordance with the law §1-3 (Government.no). These groups include youth turning 19 or 20 during the year of treatment, people who are differently abled, elderly with long-term illnesses or disabilities residing in institutions or elderly homes, refugees and asylum seekers living in public facilities, or other groups prioritized by the county. On top of this, some can get free dental assistance based on the Parliament’s budget resolution, which involves people exposed to torture or abuse, people suffering from odontophobia, drug addicts who have received services under the Social Services Act for three months or longer, and prisoners (Government.no).

The dentist office is dreaded by many. We worry about having cavities that need to be dealt with or the bill at the end of the visit, or we experience discomfort with just the thought of seeing a dentist. The recommendation is a check up once a year, but often the response is, “Oh god, it’s that time of the year again!” This causes a lot of people to not see their dentist on a regular basis or avoid going for as long as possible. Some people postpose seeing the dentist for so long that they get a backlog for treatments and the cost becomes greater than anticipated.

I firmly believe that teeth should be considered part of the body—they really are! Why can’t dental care and health care go hand in hand?

The Socialist Left Party (SV) is proposing a dental health settlement. The current SV party leader, Audun Lysbakken, told Dagbladet: “Dental care is a big hole in our welfare state, and in a time of increasing inequality, it is important to fill it. Everyone in Norway must have equal rights to good health, and this also includes teeth.” He continued, “This is not the way it should be in Norway; your wallet should not decide how good your health is.” SV wants a settlement that gradually phases in a deductible of 2,500 kroner or about $292. This idea has great potential, but in order for it to work, there has to be a price ceiling on how much private practices can charge for their services.

The Norwegian Dental Care Association is working tirelessly to make people’s teeth part of the body of single-payer health care: perhaps the government will give this issue more priority in the coming election season as well?

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm is a Bergen-based contributing editor, barista, and alumna from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. She is passionate about social science, feminism, volleyball, and her mini schnoodle.

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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