Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Saskatchewan partner to establish sole dental therapy program in Canada

March 29, 2021 - A new partnership between the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has been awarded $150,000 by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to create a model for establishing the only accredited dental therapy program in Canada. 

The USask College of Dentistry has partnered with the Sask Polytech School of Health Sciences and 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, USask dentistry college dean.

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 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 as a new beginning for dental therapy education in Canada,” said Tara Campbell, NITHA executive director.

The program’s focus will include: the recruitment of Indigenous students; utilizing multiple campuses to enable students to learn where they live; and the use of a laddering model to develop a career path for dental aides and dental assistants. The laddering model will also enable students to complete the program in steps, allowing them to take a break from their studies and find employment if needed. The program will also offer dual licensing opportunities for dental hygienists.

“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 Blevins, 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.”

This 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 2023.