Having a great smile isn’t just about looking amazing in selfies.

Poor dental health, rooted in an absence of proper dental care as a child, can lead to all sorts of physical and psychological issues for people. Not only is having a crooked, broken or diseased set of chompers a daily pain but the social stigma people with rotten teeth are saddled with can affect everything from relationships to employment.

Yet, for an appallingly large number of the territory’s population, affordable dental care is simply out of reach.

In 2010, it was estimated between 1,700 and 2,300 non-Indigenous residents, many of them children, were not covered by third-party insurance and not eligible for supplementary health benefits that provide for such things as eyeglasses, prescriptions and dental care.

This gap in dental health in the NWT was underscored again recently when a local dentist graciously offered free dental care for uninsured Northerners for two days.

As reported in Yellowknifer, (Bridging the dental gap,” Jan. 26), Dr. Nittan Gohill said he hopes to fill a gap – and not just of the tooth variety.

While seniors, Indigenous residents, people on income support and residents insured with their employers are covered in the territory, Gohill said there’s a significant but small population of people who slip through the cracks of coverage, forcing them to go without the basic care they sometimes desperately need.

“We’ve sort of found this little gap of the population that doesn’t have health insurance,” said Gohill of Birchwood Dental in Yellowknife, which was marking its one-year anniversary. “I thought, we need to see if we can help these people out.”

The territory had an opportunity to fill this gap 10 years ago but a proposal to offer supplementary health care to the “working poor” was dashed on the rocks of public disfavour after the territorial government attempted to recoup costs from senior citizens.

It was a noble effort but former health minister Sandy Lee was unable to overcome the perception that the government intended to “tax the sick and elderly” even though the intent was to claw back benefits from only those seniors who could afford it.

The sight of placard-carrying seniors marching in front of the legislative assembly was too great an obstacle for that scheme.

Unfortunately, not a thing has been done since then. So it remains the burden of family and friends, along with with generous health professionals in private practices to fill a gap the government refuses to close.

It ought to embarrass as a society that there are children in our midst going through school without being able to see a dentist or unable to afford a pair of eyeglasses.

If we were at all serious about it we would write our MLA and tell them to do something about it, and this time get it passed into law.

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