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A Brief History of Dental Therapy In Canada


In the Yukon, dentists provided services in private clinics.   There was no services provided outside of White Horse.   The Yukon medical director Dr. Gordon Butler recruited dental nurses from New Zealand to work with the only dentists in the Yukon, Dr. Banks and Dr. Pugh.   The dental programs and services provided to the community increased.   Later a dental therapist from England was recruited.   This lead to turning point of the practice of dentistry in Canada.

  The Canadian Government realized the need of preventive and primary dental care in areas under serviced by dentists.   This was mainly in the north in isolated communities.   A branch of Canadian government know as Medical Services Branch in Partnership with Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Toronto created a Dental Therapy School in Fort Smith NWT.   Under the direction of Dr. Keith Davey the director of Pedodontics of the U of T, the very first school of Dental Therapy in North America was established September 1972.   The students graduated in 1974.   After their accomplishment they were hired by the federal government to work in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

  Recognition of the dental therapists capabilities became known by different regions like British Columbia and Alberta who wanted to hire dental therapist to work in First Nation communities.  The success of the first graduates paved the way to the recruitment of more students.   The patient population was not enough to sustain the school so it was moved to Prince Albert Saskatchewan in 1981.   In Saskatchewan 1972 the Wascana Institute of Arts, Science and Technology developed a dental nurse program.   The dental nurse had the equivalent training of the federal dental therapist with the exception of one thing, their scope excluded them on the procedure of extracting permanent teeth.  Dental nurses adopted the title of dental therapists.

  In 1978 Dental Professions Act allowed dental therapists to work in private practice under the direct supervision of a dentist.

  Saskatchewan passes the Dental Therapist Act 1982.

  In 1983 the Canadian Dental Therapists Society was established to be a liaison between dental therapist and the Federal Government for dental therapist to make their concerns known.   CDTS also worked on furthering dental therapy as a career and professional standing as well as serving as a forum for dental therapists in isolation to communicate with one another.

  The PC Saskatchewan government ends Saskatchewan Dental Plan (universal childrens dental plan) eliminating 400 dental public health employees through out the province in June 1987 transfering all dental services to private practice.

  Federal Government explored the future of dental therapy through health transfer agreements to First Nations Governments at the Dental Therapist Transfer Workshop 1991.

  First nations groups expressed interest in developing the Dental Therapy Program to meet its interests.   With the help of Dr. Steven Wolfson, Dr. Hampton submitted a proposal to the Federal Government.

  In 1993 the contract to run the National School of Dental Therapy was awarded to the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College. October of that year Canadian Dental Therapists Society becomes the Canadian Dental Therapists Association.

  1994 Canadian Dental Therapists Association approached the Saskatchewan Dental Therapists Association to recognize NSDT graduates.

  1996 the Association of Dental Nurses of Manitoba recognize dental therapists.   In 1997 dental therapy is regulated in Manitoba.

  In 1997 the CDTA , SDTA and MDTA formed a National Dental Therapist Working Group to create a document; Dental Therapy Profession in Canada Scope of Professional Practice/Competencies.

  In 2003 SIFC became First Nations University of Canada. Universities in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba bid on the federal contract to run NSDT, in the end it was awarded to the FNU.

  April 2009 the Federal Deputy Minster of Health announced that funding to the NSDT would be cut.   The Federal Government reasoning for such action was that the NSDT did not meet the federal mandate.

  February 2010, Provincial and Federal Government announced it was not funding the First Nations University as allegations of financial mismanagement circulated the news.

  The National School of Dental Therapy closed November 2011.

  Today dental therapists work all across Canada.   However the need of dental therapists has increased.   Access to dental care is an issue in many areas of Canada.  These areas usually are underserviced and unable to afford dental care.   This article only outlines events but does not give the credit deserved for the many doctors, dentists, dental therapist, dental hygienists and many more that dedicated their hard work and effort to further the evolution of dentistry.   In the process they brought dentistry to the 21st Century for all to see.


A Brief History Of Dental Therapy in Canada
Sajiev Thomas, February 20,2012


1) Yukon Dental Therapists Association Position Paper September 1999. Yukon Dental Therapists Association. 4pg. 1999. Unpublished

2) The Saskatchewan Dental Therapist 1983. Long B.  Saskatchewan Dental Therapist Association. Pg 2-3. 1983.

3) National School of Dental Therapy, Medical Services Branch Health and welfare Canada Canadian Dental Therapist A Health Career Medical Services Branch, Health and Welfare Canada 1980.

  4) The Dental Therapists Employment and Service Regulations, the Queens printer 1996. Regina Sask.

5) Dental Therapists, Health Transfer Newsletter. Spring 1992. Published by Minister of National Health and Welfare. Health and Welfare Canada. pp. 4-5.

6) Ottawa Cuts Funding to First Nations University, CBC News Saskatchewan Feb 8, 2010, Source cited February 17,2012.

7) Glor E. and Wolfson S. et al. 1997. Policy Innovation in the Saskatchewan Public Sector 1971-1982, Captus Press.



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