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MP slams lack of dental training
Action plan outlines steps for improved oral health across the North

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 27, 2013

Years after funding was taken away under the Conservative government from the National School of Dental Therapy in 2010, Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington still wants to know why, especially after last month's action plan released by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).

NNSL photo/graphic

One hundred per cent of Inuit people aged 40 and up have had or currently have at least one cavity, according to the results of the Inuit Oral Health Survey. - NNSL file photo

Bevington publicly accused Nunavut MP and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq of ignoring the needs of her own constituents.

"The school trained dental therapists for remote and aboriginal communities," said Bevington.

"Northerners need more dental professionals, not fewer, and this minister has taken actions which make matters worse."

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Lives: Inuit Oral Health Action Plan 2013 followed a 2008-2009 survey on oral health which found that tooth decay is two to three times worse among Inuit than southern Canadians.

"The results indicate that Inuit communities are suffering from unacceptably high levels of dental decay," stated the report.

The report found that the way dental services are offered across all three territories does not meet even the basic needs of residents.

The report recommends focusing on prevention strategies, stating most funding for dental services are directed toward cavity and disease treatments. When dentists arrive in a community, there's a backlog of needed treatments and they have little time for prevention-based activities.

Aglukkaq responded to Bevington's accusations by saying that the federal government is spending $25 million on health research for aboriginal populations and that one of the priorities would be oral health.

"Our government is the single largest investor in research around the country," said Aglukkaq during question period in the House of Commons.

"We invested in pathways to health equity and one of the five priority areas identified under that $25-million program was related to oral health."

The research program spans 10 years and Bevington doesn't think $2.5 million per year is enough, especially when the ITK report states it's hard to access oral health professionals.

"The oral health human resource issue can be best addressed with Inuit oral health providers who have a desire to work within their own communities. A Northern training program is required to train service providers for Inuit communities, which would enable a program of dental health education and preventive dentistry in each community," stated the report.

In Nunavut, dental therapists are employees of the GN. Seventeen of the 26 communities in Nunavut have available positions, few of which were filled at the time of the report.

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