In May 2012, Dr. Robert Sutherland, CDA president, and Dr. Euan Swan, CDA manager of dental programs, appeared before a federal government committee that is studying a potential skills and labour shortage in Canada. CDA was invited to give testimony to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, along with representatives from other professional health associations.
“There is not a shortage of dentists in Canada,” explained Dr. Sutherland. However, he emphasized that access to care, and the urban-rural discrepancy in the availability of dental treatment, is a growing concern. Statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show that 21% of Canadians live in rural areas, while only 11% of dentists practise in these areas. Increasing the overall number of dentists in Canada would therefore not adequately address the issue, unless more dentists practise in rural or remote locales.
Dr. Sutherland highlighted some existing initiatives by provincial dental associations to address this issue, including the Alberta Dental Association and College’s mobile home dental clinics which travel to rural Alberta to provide care where it otherwise is not available. Similarly, the Ontario Dental Association’s program that allows for locum dentists to provide care in remote northern regions of the province was also brought to the committee’s attention. Dr. Sutherland spoke of the opportunity to provide incentives that would encourage short-term dental practices in rural and remote areas.
Dr. Swan also mentioned existing programs at dental schools across Canada where positions are allocated for potential First Nations applicants. CDA further emphasized that alongside addressing the issue of access to care, prevention remains a core concern of the profession. Because the majority of oral health conditions are preventable, Canadians need to be informed about how they can stay healthy—no matter where they live.
CDA was pleased that the dental profession had the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and to have its concerns heard on this important national issue.