Indigenous dental coaching program goals to enhance care entry in Saskatchewan – Saskatoon

A new dental therapy program is set to launch in March of 2023.

After four to five years of work to get to this point and collaboration between the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), Univerisity of Saskatchewan’s (USask) College of Dentistry and Northlands College, Saskatchewan Polytechnic will be bringing this program to fruition.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) also provided support for the two-year Bachelor of Science dental therapy program and approved $2.1 million in funding to establish it.

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“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,” said NITHA Executive Director Tara Campbell.

“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.”

In 1987, the dental therapy program delivered through the former Wascana Institute closed, according to a press release.

“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.”

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USask College of Dentistry Dean Doug Brothwell says the program will not only provide students with the skills to be involved within the dental industry but also leaders and advocates within their communities.

“It’s a very unique program. We are catering the program to create the ideal workforce to serve the Indigenous peoples and communities, That’s what our mission statement is,” Brothwell told Global News.

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The program will consist of six terms. Roughly 21 students will be accepted into the course and they will have the chance to study in either La Ronge (Northlands College), Prince Albert (USask campus) or Regina (Sask Polytechnic.)

Campbell says the workforce has been aging. This program will allow for a younger crop of students to be brought into the industry.

“About four to five years ago, roughly 40 percent of the dental workforce was over the age of 55, five percent was under the age of 35,” said Campbell.

The lack of dental care access for all has been a concern within indigenous communities, especially in the northern parts of the province.

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“What it means for us is we are getting better access to oral care to people in remote areas, especially in the north,” said Saskatchewan Polytechnic dental program academic chair Sharman Woynarski.

“Sask Polytech is very excited to work in partnership to launch Canada’s only dental therapy program,” said Christa MacLean, dean of Sask Polytech’s Schools of Health Science and Nursing. “Dental therapists are an integral part of the oral health team. They are trained to perform restorative dental treatments such as fillings, extractions, and other preventive services.”

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Brothwell says students will also have access to six state-of-the-science haptic simulators (virtual simulators) similar to what pilots would use in training.


New state-of-the-science haptic simulators for dental therapy program students use.

Courtesy: USask College of Dentistry


New state-of-the-science haptic simulators for dental therapy program students use.

Courtesy: USask College of Dentistry

Brothwell says the program will begin accepting students in winter next year with classes starting in August.

“We are helping with reconciliation and decolonization and helping to build capacity within these northern communities where local people get trained as professionals,” said Brothwell.

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