Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has given its support for a new national dental therapy program, and approved $2.1 million in funding to establish the program.
The University of Saskatchewan announced the news on Friday. The new program will run collaboratively through a partnership between the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) College of Dentistry, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Northlands College. The USask campus in Prince Albert is one of three campuses offering student instruction.
The partnership will launch the Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Dental Therapy program in Fall 2023, establishing Canada’s first and only dental therapy degree program. Administrators will start accepting students in March 2023 through the USask website, with classes scheduled to start in August 2023.
The program will accept seven students per year at each campus location, for a total of 21 students per year.
The two-year degree program will focus on recruiting Indigenous students, using multiple campuses to enable students to learn in the communities they live in, and use a new model that allows students to complete the program in steps, giving them the option to take a break from their studies and find employment if needed.
The degree program will also offer dual licensing opportunities for dental hygienists.
“NITHA is excited this program is coming to fruition. A program to address the oral health needs throughout NITHA continues to be a top priority for our Board of Chiefs,” NITHA Executive Director Tara Campbell said in a release.
“Our leadership has been advocating for a program since the closure of the National School of Dental Therapy. Growing capacity in dental therapy is central to improving Indigenous oral health, not only in Saskatchewan but, across the country.”
USask College of Dentistry dean Dr. Doug Brothwell said it was an exciting announcement.
“It has been over four years since NITHA approached the college requesting that we work together to solve the problem of access to dental care in their 34 member First Nations,” he said. “The original two partners soon realized the advantage of partnering with Sask Polytech and Northlands College to bring additional expertise and experience to the new program.
“Combined, and after a full year of collaborative work, we are thrilled to be rolling out a unique program to develop the ideal work force to meet the oral health needs and aspirations of Canada’s Indigenous people and communities.”
Sask, Polytech’s Schools of Health Science and Nursing dean Christa MacLean had a similar reaction. MacLean said they’re excited to be part of the new partnership, and launch Canada’s only dental therapy program.
“Dental therapists are an integral part of the oral health team,” she said. “They are trained to perform restorative dental treatment such as fillings, extractions, and other preventive services. This partnership will allow students to train close to home in La Ronge, Prince Albert or Regina.”
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 absence of a dedicated dental therapy program has aggravated access to care issues in these remote communities.