nl-wiseman-ross-20070522

Health Minister Ross Wiseman says a new bursary program should help recruit and retain rural dentists. ((CBC))

A new student bursary programshould entice more dentists to work in small communities, Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister said Wednesday.

Eligible students will receive $25,000 in return for a year of rural service after they graduate. Students can apply annually, up to a limit of three years.

Ross Wiseman said as many as 11 students will be eligible for the bursaries each year.

"It's a pot of money that we've created for students who would want to come back and return the service to us," he said.

The province hopes to be able to recruit dentists for three areas — the Northern Peninsula, the Burin Peninsula and parts of Labrador — that have had little if any dental service for years.

"There are pockets elsewhere, but these three stand out," Wiseman told reporters.

Peter Hornett, chief of dentistry with the Labrador Grenfell regional health authority, described the initiative as "excellent" and said it will help deal with patient waiting times that have stretched as long as eight months.

"We have been extremely busy. We haven't seen any decline in the demand for dental care," Hornett said. "In fact, my personal experience seems to be that it continues to increase."

Tony Patey, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association, said many people may not realize how expensive dentistry studies are.

"This will knock down that financial barrier," he said.

"Dental studies is probably the most expensive course of studies you can do. This will take a bit of the edge off and allow people access to the field that wouldn't have had access otherwise."

The provincial government has had success with a similar program for medical students.

Meanwhile, the government is launching a specialist bursary program to help attract orthodontists, oral surgeons and other specialists to rural areas.