Childrens dentistry is facing a critical shortage in Alberta as the province struggles with a rapidly rising population, rising costs and a rising cost of living.
More than 200,000 children’s dentists are being asked to step down this year, and a shortage of more than 1,000 more has already been identified, according to a report released Monday by the Alberta Health Services Authority.
Alberta is the only province with a dentistry shortage.
Dr. Mark Borkos, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, says Alberta is facing an unprecedented dental crisis that is affecting children as young as age five.
“We’ve seen a real reduction in the number of primary care dentists,” he said.
The Alberta Health Care Authority, which oversees the province’s public hospitals, said the province has had no shortage of dental staff since it opened in 2013, but the agency expects the shortage to rise in the next year.
Borkos said the situation in Alberta is unprecedented, and he expects more than 20 per cent of Alberta dentists will need to retire this year.
The situation is “unprecedented,” he says, and it’s a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately.
“We need to address the problem of dental care in the province of Alberta.”
Borrowing money to pay for dentists’ services would not be a viable option, Borkis said, noting the province already has the highest amount of debt in the country.
He said the public-health emergency in Alberta requires urgent action.
“We’re in the middle of an economic emergency, and we’re going to need a lot of dentists to do this,” he told CBC News.
Many provinces in Canada have seen shortages of dentistry staff in recent years, including in British Columbia, where the province is dealing with an opioid crisis.
As of the end of last year, the province had fewer than 3,400 dentists working in primary care.
But that number is expected to grow in coming months, according the province.
The Alberta health authority is asking the public for $8.6 million to expand the supply of dentist assistants and other dentists.
With files from the Associated Press