Dental care inadequate
Health Canada report calls for more dentist days

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 10/97) - Northerners are not getting proper care when it comes to their teeth.

That's because there are not enough dentists to go around, according to a recent federal report.

Health Canada released a review of dental care in the North recently stating that since 1986, there's been no increase in the number of dentists days available.

That revelation comes despite a 27-per- cent rise in the number of people seeking dental care under non-insured health benefits.

"The total number of days to the regions of the NWT is too small for a significant improvement to be made in the population's oral health," said Frank Hechter, an assistant professor in the faculty of dentistry at the University of Manitoba.

Hechter was commissioned by the Medical Services Branch, Health Canada to travel to various communities and conduct informal interviews with concerned citizens and stakeholders.

After hearing all sides and aspects of the delivery of dental care, he made recommendations, contained in his report, for improvements to the system.

Hechter proposes a 27-per-cent increase in service days, which translates into 418 additional dental service days to be distributed among the five regions of the NWT. (See chart for current dental days distribution).

Where or if these days are distributed in the future depends on need and aboriginal proportion in each community.

In his review, Hechter also pointed out that there are two groups of people in the population who are inadequately served: young adults who leave school and forget to go to a dentist until later in life and preschool children who suffer from baby bottle-related dental problems.

He suggested that dental providers contact St. Theresa Point in Manitoba to get information to help them prevent and treat dental problems.

The dental therapy debate that has been going on in the Keewatin for months was also touched on in Hechter's report.

He said the relationship between dental therapists and dentists is "highly inadequate, with plans to eliminate therapists."

His comments were made in March. The therapists have since been removed.

"Unfortunately, it would appear that only limited communication and dialogue has occurred between the affected stakeholders.

"A somewhat uncharitable view is that the elimination of the dental therapists and their program is part of a corporate plan to increase revenue to a privileged few under the guise of responsible privatization," said Hechter.

He wanted to get an understanding of the status of the dental therapy program, but the KRHB did not return requests for meetings.

"Resolution to this outstanding and very disruptive and divisive conflict might involve the intervention and mediation of a third party," said Hechter.