A lapsed contract with an NWT clinic has left more than 8,000 Yukoners without dental service close to home.
For the past two years, the Yukon government contracted dentists from the Hay River Dental Clinic to service adults in 14 Yukon communities.
Under the terms of the $45,000 contract the government reimbursed travel and accommodation costs for a dentist and dental assistant, and allowed them access to government clinics and equipment already set up in the communities.
But because of a staffing problem, the Hay River clinic did not renew its contract for a third year after it lapsed on April 1.
And, so far, no other clinic has stepped in to take the job.
“We are still working on trying to recruit dentists,” said Yukon director of community health programs Paula Pasquali on Monday morning.
“We want to have this position filled as soon as possible.”
Since March, when it learned that the Hay River clinic would not be renewing its contract, the Health department has been talking to dentists from outside of the territory who have expressed an interest in the contract.
“I am hopeful that something will come of those conversations,” said Pasquali.
The territory runs a children’s dental health program, which serves kids in pre-school through to Grade 12 in the communities and pre-school to Grade 8 in Whitehorse.
Dental therapists visit the communities as needed to perform restorative and preventative work on children and youth, filling cavities, applying sealants, offering fluoride treatments and doing scaling.
“We have a mandate to provide services to children and adolescents and we do that, but we don’t have a mandate to provide services to adults,” said Pasquali.
“But we allow contracted dentists the use of our space and equipment.”
Along with the staff from Hay River, some local dentists have also serviced the communities over the past few years.
There are about 16 dentists practicing in the Yukon, but there are currently none living outside Whitehorse.
And Whitehorse dentists are already very busy with their work, said Pasquali.
There are a number of handicaps dentists face when working in the communities, said Yukon Dental Association president Richard Smith.
The facilities aren’t as good and the equipment is sometimes a problem, said Smith.
“You’re not nearly as productive when you go out and work in the communities and most of the younger dentists here have a pile of debt from school,” he said.
Some of the communities’ equipment is old, said Pasquali.
“But it is still in good working condition.
“It breaks down on occasion, and if this happens, those dentists using it need to tell us so we can repair or replace it.
“And we do have some new equipment,” she added.
Like Pasquali, Smith is working to find a solution that will send dentists to clean and drill teeth in rural Yukon.
It’s a service he calls “quite important.”
“It makes more sense to take the dentist to the people than the people to the dentist.”
Smith suggested the Yukon government offer incentives to dentists.
Or bring another dentist to the Yukon whose main job is to service adults in the communities.
Pasquali could not comment about whether there should be a greater incentive.