P.E.I. dealing with shortage of dental assistants

Dentists on Prince Edward Island are finding it harder and harder to hire dental assistants. Efforts are underway to boost wages and increase the job profile in order to make the work more attractive.

Dental Association of P.E.I. urging dentists to increase assistant wages

Holland College graduate Claire Belliveau is entering the workforce after 10 months of training. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Dentists in Prince Edward Island are finding it harder and harder to hire dental assistants and it's a problem right across Canada, according to the president of the Dental Association of P.E.I.

With fewer people training for the profession, efforts are underway to boost wages and increase the job profile in order to make the work more attractive. 

Cornwall-native Claire Belliveau, 19, is walking out of graduation and directly into a full-time permanent position. 

"Whenever I was offered my job I didn't have to apply or anything," said Belliveau. "I don't think I even gave them a resumé because I did my practicum there." 

Multiple job offers

It's the same story for each of the 13 students in her graduating class from Holland College's dental assistant program. Belliveau entered the program right out of high school, and 10 months later is entering the workforce. 

"We actually received emails from our teachers ... with multiple job offers, like clinics calling in being like, 'We need an assistant, just wondering if you have any that are looking for jobs.'"

Holland College's 2019 dental assistant program graduates pose for a picture at graduation. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Belliveau's class normally accepts around 20-25 students, but recently, they haven't filled all the seats. 

"We're seeing a little bit of a dip," said Lornie Hughes, program manager for Holland College's health and community studies.

"This is a smaller graduating class. But we see some real opportunities in the international market. Folks are coming back and we see a real opportunity for those that are re-training that might be underemployed in the market."

It's not clear what's causing the shortage, which is widespread across the country. 

"I don't know the exact reason but we try to address it the best way possible," said Dr. Mike Connolly, president of the Dental Association of P.E.I.  

"We find that through increasing salary and trying to increase some of the profile of what a dental assistant does in our office, that that will solve the problem." 

Dental Association of P.E.I. president Mike Connolly treats a patient at his Charlottetown dental office. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC )

Boost wages

The Dental Association of P.E.I. is urging dentists to increase wages for assistants. According to Statistics Canada, dental assistants on P.E.I., along with Quebec, are among the lowest paid in the country. They earn between $16 and $25 an hour. 

"We need dental assistants in our office. We can't run our business without dental assistants. They're vital, they're important and we have to step up and find a way to make their profession enticing and pay them in a manner to suit that."

The association has a committee dedicated to the problem. They are asking dentists to talk to high school students at job fairs and get the word out that jobs are available. 

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