The University of Saskatchewan College of Dentistry has partnered with the Saskatchewan Polytech School of Health Sciences and the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) to develop a proposal for a dental therapy program based in Saskatchewan.
“By working together, we aim to create a jointly operated, accredited dental therapy program that will attract indigenous students from all over Canada and improve access to care for remote and indigenous populations not only in Saskatchewan but across the country,” said Dr. Doug Brothwell, dean of the college of dentistry.
In 1987, the dental therapy program delivered through the former Wascana Institute closed, and the National School of Dental Therapy closed in 2011, ceasing all dental therapy education in Canada.
The effects continue to be felt by remote communities in Saskatchewan and across the country where dental therapists traditionally worked, the college said, adding that the absence of a dedicated dental therapist program has amplified access to care issues in these remote communities.
“This has been a high priority for our Board of Chiefs, and we are excited to collaborate towards improving the oral health of indigenous peoples in the province, a vision that we all share. This marks a new beginning for dental therapy education in Canada,” said Tara Campbell, NITHA executive director.
The program will focus on recruiting indigenous students, using multiple campuses to enable students to learn where they live, and using a laddering model to develop a career path for dental aides and dental assistants.
The laddering model also will enable students to complete the program in steps, allowing them to take a break from their studies and find employment if needed, the college said. The program will offer dual licensing opportunities for dental hygienists as well.
“Dental therapists are an integral part of the oral health team. They are trained to perform restorative dental treatment such as fillings, extractions, and other preventive services,” said Sandra Blevens, dean of Sask Polytech’s Schools of Health Science and Nursing.
“Sask Polytech is very excited for the opportunity to work in partnership to create Canada’s only dental therapy program. This partnership will allow us to capitalize on all of our resources to provide training that will ultimately improve the oral health of the people of Saskatchewan,” said Blevens.
The proposal is the first step in establishing the funding needed to start the dental therapy program, which is expected to be ready to accept students by March 2022.