Updates to Regina dentistry program highlight industry-wide issues

Busy medicine students on classes
Proposed updates for Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s dental assistance program have revealed a shortage of dental care providers and a greater need for more specialized training.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic announced Wednesday morning that much-needed changes would be made to its dental program this year, including enhancing the sterilization centre and ventilation systems, renovating two of three wings on the clinical floor, creating 31 enclosed operatory suites, purchasing new equipment for enhanced training, and building a chair-side clinic space.Trackerdslogo

Funding comes from a $150,000 donation by the Saskatchewan Dental Assistants’ Association (SDAA) and a $1.8-million investment from the Ministry of Advanced Education.

“We have had a low number of dental assistants in the last five to 10 years,” said Jennifer Prpich, incoming SDAA president, in an interview Wednesday. “We as a council just really decided that it was time to get more people into the career and make sure they’re properly trained and that they have all of the skills they need to keep the public safe as well.”

Prpich, who is also employed as a dental assistant, said enrolment numbers were further impacted by the pandemic. The program was shut down because they did not have the space or the sanitation measures required by new health guidelines. This influenced Sask Polytechnic’s decision to add separate operatory suites to the previously open-concept rooms.

Prpich added that the dental industry has been having trouble keeping up with rapid technological advancements and that many of the skills students are learning differ greatly from what they are required to know.

“The technology is changing so quickly that previously in any school program, not just Sask Poly, they generally have somewhat outdated technology,” she explained. “So you are kind of already behind the curve and get to a new office and you’re having to kind of retrain.”

Newer equipment, she said, will help bridge the gap between knowledge and performance, enabling students to learn a wider variety of new specialized skills, like impression-making, amalgam and cord packing and orthodontics.

Renovation of the fifth-floor wing is the first step in a multi-phase plan to transform the Saskatchewan Polytechnic dental clinic into a dental healthcare centre. The $6-million undertaking would include additional equipment upgrades and renovations to the prevention clinic, reception area and tech labs.

Sask Polytechnic was not available to comment on when the centre would be completed, but changes to the dental program will be added by the end of the year.

The upgraded centre is expected to allow more people to access the services of the community clinic and easily accommodate updated programming, particularly continuing education courses.