A councillor in Bonavista is renewing a desperate search for a dentist to service the region.

The town hasn't had a dentist — full or part time — since 2002.

Instead, men, women and children have had to go to larger centres such as Clarenville, Gander and St. John's for an appointment.

Newly-elected councillor Reg Butler says it's time the town got with the times.

"It's unreal ... ever since 2002. You're talking about probably 11 years," said Butler. "Let's face it, it's very important when it comes to your teeth .... and it can probably result in health issues as well."

Butler said many people put off making appointments, or end up not bothering at all, given the cost of the procedure and getting to a major centre.

He notes expenses can double or triple if you add seniors and children to the trip.

With a population of about 12,000 on the Bonavista Peninsula, Butler believes the patient base exists for a dentist to make a go of it.

Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association president Jason Noel said there are more than a few obstacles in the way.

Noel said the Bonavista region tops the list of priorities for the association and government when it comes to filling a gap.

'Setting up on your own is a daunting task. You're coming out of dental school, probably $200,000 in debt already, and you haven't worked a day yet. And the problem in Bonavista is it's been 11 years since there was a clinc there.'- Dr. Jason Noel, president, Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association

"The government has actually done quite a good job of trying to encourage people to go into rural areas," said Noel.

"They've established a bursary program for graduates, and Bonavista is right at the top for students coming out, to go in there."

But Noel said the demand and expense associated with starting a new practice from scratch can be a scary proposition. It doesn't help, he said, that only three or four graduates from the Dalhousie dental school each year are Newfoundlanders or Labradorians.

"Setting up on your own is a daunting task. You're coming out of dental school, probably $200,000 in debt already, and you haven't worked a day yet," he said.

"And the problem in Bonavista is it's been 11 years since there was a clinic there. Most of these dentists are coming out of school and going in to clinics already established, already set up. It's an easier transition out of school. And they haven't got to lay down another $100,000 for sure to set up," he said.

Noel said it might help if the basic facilities were already in place for a new dentist.

Established office would help

"I think if there was a space in Bonavista in the hospital, or long-term care facility, for a dental suite, and there was some stuff there for a dentist to use, there would no doubt be a dentist going in there ... once or twice a week," he said.

"But because there's nothing there, and nothing established, the cost of actually setting it up is cost-prohibitive. If government were to help out the community by helping set up a dental suite, that would certainly help."

Noel notes recruitment of dentists is not just a Bonavista problem. He said it's also an issue for other rural areas of the province, and across the country.

The national average is about one dentist for every 1,800 people But it's about 2,500 to one in this province, and up to 4,000 to one in central Newfoundland.

"The problem is the need is so great," said Noel. "There are about 24 clinics across the province now looking for dentists. So when you've got three or four students coming back every year, Bonavista just hasn't made the cut yet. Dentists just haven't gone there."