Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Sask Polytech’s dental clinic reopens

When COVID-19 shut down Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses in March, student life changed for many students. Those in the final months of their program were most impacted, including students in Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting at Regina Campus.  

“Campus closures meant our dental clinic in Regina was closed, and that turned everybody’s life upside down,” says Dean Lefebvre, program head of Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting. “The clinic is an absolute necessity for our students. They need hands-on training under the supervision of licensed instructors in order to demonstrate competency in dentistry skills.”

While Sask Polytech campuses were closed, it was another story behind the scenes. Faculty and staff were in overdrive, working remotely to develop a plan that would allow students to get the hands-on experience they needed for graduation, while also meeting public health guidelines for reopening the clinic to the public.

In August, the Regina Campus clinic officially reopened under stringent new protocols, such as aerosol reduction procedures developed by provincial dental associations. Clients are screened before entering, and hand sanitizer and masks are a must. Fewer people are allowed in the clinic at any one time, and personal protective equipment is the new normal, including face shields, bonnets and gloves.

Public response to the clinic’s reopening has been good. “We’ve provided dental services at reduced rates for years, so many people rely on us for their oral health needs. It was really important for us to get up and running,” Lefebvre says.

Getting students back into a clinical setting was also a huge win. “This fall, we were finally able to celebrate the graduation of our 2020 class of dental hygienists. In December, we’ll do the same for our dental assisting students. I think it’s so important to acknowledge the effort and commitment they put into completing their program. It’s a big accomplishment in a normal situation, but even more so given the challenges of the pandemic,” Lefebvre says.

A silver lining amid the pandemic has been the growth of teledentistry at Sask Polytech. Teledentistry is the use of information communications technology for dental care, consultation, education and public awareness. It can also be used to improve services to underserved populations with no or limited access to care.

“Teledentistry has been around for a while, but COVID has put it in the spotlight,” Lefebvre says. “For example, last year at the Northern Health and Wellness Days presented by Cameco in La Loche and Clearwater, we used Face Time to coordinate treatment for a client unable to travel to another location. This allowed our dental therapist to collaborate with the dentist to complete the treatment in a timely matter.”

A remote oral health event was also delivered at Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina, the first time Sask Polytech has delivered the program in an urban setting. “Our dental hygiene students remotely connected with grade 6 and 7 students, teaching them about oral health, asking about any problems and answering questions,” Lefebvre says.

Teledentistry is generating a lot of excitement, so much so that Sask Polytech is adding teledentistry to the curriculum. Is there a future for teledentistry beyond the current pandemic?

“No question,” Lefebvre says. “Oral health is essential to overall health, and teledentistry is helping us break down barriers to oral health services, such as income level, language barriers, access to transportation and childcare. Teledentistry helps us connect with people who need our services.”

Clients of all ages are welcome at the Regina campus dental clinic. Dental hygiene care is provided by Sask Polytech students under the supervision of licensed dental hygienists and dentists. Dental care is provided by licensed dentists and dental assistants, assisted by Sask Polytech dental assisting students. To schedule an appointment, call 306-775-7531 or visit saskpolytech.ca/dentalclinic.