Yukon scales back in-school dental program

A national shortage of dental therapists means some Yukon students won't get dental care at school anymore.

It affects Grade 8 students in Whitehorse, as well as all students at Whitehorse Elementary and Golden Horn schools. 

"The Yukon Children's Dental Program has been struggling for a number of years with the ability to provide services to all schools, to all children enrolled in the program," said Pat Living, director of communications of Yukon's Department of Health and Social Services.

The school-based program provides diagnostic, preventative and restorative dental services to Yukon children. The services are provided by dental therapists and paid for by the territorial government.

Living said the program has struggled since the 2011 closure of the National School of Dental Therapy in Prince Albert, Sask. 

The school trained dental therapists, and many graduate students would work in remote communities and schools across the North. Living said a lot of dental therapists continued on with their education and became certified dentists.

"There is no other educational institution that is graduating dental therapists. Nationally, across the country, they are in very short supply."

Kate Bueckert/CBC

Living said dental therapists do teeth cleanings, fluoride treatment, and even dental fillings. More serious procedures such as root canals or tooth extractions need to be done by a licensed dentist.

Living said an interim measure for kids enrolled in the program will see the government pay for an appointment with a dentist at a private clinic. She said parents should not be concerned.

"It's just going to happen through a dentist, as opposed to a dental therapist. I mean, the one thing that will be different is that in the past we had our staff going into school. Now the parent will have to take the child to the dentist."

Living said the government will still provide basic services at other schools, such as fluoride treatment or simple fillings. 

The Health Department encourages parents who have private dental insurance to use their benefits.