Suspending dental programs will be devastating

My voice is one of many pleading for the board of the College of New Caledonia to keep the dental programs intact. I am a lifelong resident of Prince George, a former CNC student, and a local dental practice owner. Based upon my connection with this community and my knowledge of the provision of dental services in the region, it is clear to me that the suspension of these programs will have a devastating effect. As health care professionals, my colleagues and I hold the well being of our patients above all else. Because of our direct access to highly trained Certified Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists, the residents of Prince George have enjoyed a long history of world-class dental care. The CNC dental programs are widely considered to be amongst the best in the nation. They are part of the fabric of CNC and of this community. The loss of these programs will create a terrible ripple effect throughout the dental community, which will ultimately diminish the public's access to high quality oral health care.

A decrease in the number of qualified CDAs and dental hygienists in the region will quickly result in a significant increase in dental staff wages. The resulting surge of overhead expenses will force dental practice owners to increase their fees in order to remain economically viable. It is a common misconception that "good" dental plans will cover most or all of a family's routine dental treatment. In fact, dental plans are designed to subsidize the cost of dental treatment up to a pre-determined maximum amount. If dental offices in this region are faced with dramatically increased staffing costs, those costs will be passed along to patients. Regardless of dental plan, all patients will pay significantly more out of pocket for routine dental treatment. Given that many local families already struggle to pay for dental care, elevated fees are likely to create a significant obstacle to them maintaining good oral health.

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Suspension of the CNC dental programs will create a shortage of appropriately trained dental professionals in Northern B.C. The average busy family dental practice will quickly begin to have difficulty providing optimal care to its pool of regular patients. With compromised staffing, most practices will be forced to offer a more limited availability of appointments. Patients will experience longer wait times and there will be less time spent with each patient. Also, with the average dental practice having a lower level of knowledge, skill and expertise, the overall quality of care will plummet.

The loss of our local dental programs will result in dental practices looking elsewhere for qualified professionals. This will inevitably produce a more transient and unstable pool of dental professionals. Those relocating to Northern B.C. will be inherently less likely to put down roots to become devoted members of the community. This instability, coupled with the higher cost of attracting distant professionals, will further impair public access to high quality and reasonably priced dental care.

A large percentage of dentists in Northern B.C. are near the end of their careers. In the past few years there has been an influx of young associate dentists. These young dentists are searching for an alternative to practicing in over-saturated urban centres. In order for the residents of Northern B.C. to continue to benefit from outstanding dental care, it is imperative that young associate dentists commit to purchasing dental practices from experienced local dentists. However, a constant stress of inadequate and expensive staffing will certainly deter many young dentists from purchasing existing practices. A dangerous shortage of dentists may result in the very near future if the CNC dental programs are suspended.

There currently exists a collegial harmony amongst dentists in Northern B.C. This cooperation and mutual respect is largely responsible for the consistently high level of dental care in the region. Closure of the CNC dental programs will predictably erode this collegiality through competition for the limited availability of qualified dental professionals. Without the dentists in Northern B.C. collaborating to optimize patient centred care, the public is at risk to experience substandard service.

A discontinuation of the CNC dental programs will not only impact the oral health of our community, it will also negatively impact our general health. An unhealthy mouth can contribute to a wide variety of medical conditions. Also, many diseases can be detected by assessing the condition of teeth, gums and tissues in the mouth. Furthermore, basic health indicators such as blood pressure readings are routinely taken in dental offices. Because the vast majority of the population visits a dental office more frequently than a medical clinic, many patients first learn of a medical problem from a dental professional. The general health of the residents of Northern B.C. will be in jeopardy if the board of CNC approves the suspension of the CNC dental programs. It is my sincere hope that these world-class programs remain intact.

Dr. Nav Mann, DMD

Prince George

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