HELP! I need somebody…

by Catherine Wilson, Editor

No, not just any body. Actually, any body.

A dentist from Saskatchewan telephoned me recently. She had a question. I had an answer. Transaction completed. The dentist sounded a bit exasperated. I enquired as to the reason. Third cold in two months, she said. A little run down. A lot of stress.

She explained that she had fallen behind in every aspect of her job and was trying to complete some paperwork. She doesn’t have a front office person. Hasn’t had one for more than a year. She was trying to work the paperwork in around her hygiene appointments. She doesn’t have a hygienist. Hasn’t had one in four years.

Are you particularly difficult to work for, I enquired. No, not really, I was assured.

“I just can’t find good help,” she explained. In fact, she went on, “I can’t even find lousy help. Not even lousy help is available. I’d hire lousy help in a heartbeat.” She sounded defeated. Sheepishly, I hung up, put on my jacket and left for home. It was 4:30pm.

According to dental hygienist was one of the Top 10 ‘hot’ careers for 2006. Why?

“Demand has increased because our growing and aging population requires more health services; governments are increasing funding for health care; Canadians have more dental insurance coverage; and cosmetic use of dental prostheses are increasing. The rate of new job creation (6.5 percent) has grown significantly faster than the average (2 percent). Hourly wages are about 10 above average ($16.91). The number of recent graduates seeking jobs is above average, but more job openings exist than qualified people to fill them.

The employment growth rate will likely be significantly above average because of ongoing trends–a growing and aging population that requires more health services, increased government funding for health care, Canadians with more dental insurance coverage, and new technologies that improve dental care. Demand may increase as more Canadians are likely to request preventive dental care,” according to

Dental hygiene is considered a hot career with good pay and benefits. So, why are people not beating a path through the college doors? For heaven’s sake, even the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) has expressed concern over the shortage of dental hygienists nationally. Although this shortage has not yet been validated in literature, it has led to the opening of new diploma level dental hygiene programs nationally.

In the Health Canada document “Building on Values: The Future of Health Care in Canada,” dental hygiene was cited as the fastest growing health profession in Canada between 1991 and 2000.

And to exacerbate the situation, a shortage of dental hygiene educators is emerging as a serious problem. Current accreditation requirements of the Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada specify that “a core of faculty” in dental hygiene programs must have a baccalaureate degree, yet the diploma is currently the minimal educational requirement in 50 percent of dental hygiene programs responding to a survey sent to directors of each Canadian school of dental hygiene in 2003.

In the article, A Survey of Canadian Dental Hygiene Faculty Needs and Credentials by Terry L. Mitchell, RDH, M.Ed. and Salme E. Lavigne, RDH, MS, (DH), which appeared in the Journal of Dental Education (J Dent Educ. 69(8): 879-889 2005), the authors concluded that, “the results of this study clearly identify a growing need for dental hygiene educators in Canada. According to these results, by 2008 this need will reach a crisis state.”

It’s 2007. Is there a crisis?