Access to dental care can be tricky, especially in more remote areas, such as the qathet region. Anecdotally, many folks sail to Comox on Vancouver Island to see a dentist, or travel to the Lower Mainland (Vancouver).
Independent dental hygienist Meryl Thorsell wants to help people more easily access teeth care by opening up an independent practitioner office in the qathet region. That means a dental office without the dentist.
“Across Canada there are over 1,000 independent hygienists,” said Thorsell. “This is a way to create access to care; we work in remote communities where there is limited access [to dental care], and by allowing hygienists to be independent practitioners. It creates a different avenue to seek dental care.”
Thorsell emphasized that [the experience] “will be like a regular dental office, other than there is no dentist.”
“As a hygienist, I can offer the full-array of teeth cleaning, full exam of teeth and gums, and I will be equipped with an X-ray machine,” added Thorsell.
Although her services provide dental care, “the main thing that people need to understand is that I am only a hygienist, so I can’t identify if people have decay; that’s outside of my scope of practice, but I am able to see what’s going on in there and from that, I can refer people back to a dentist.”
Thorsell was born and raised in Powell River, but moved to Victoria to study at Camosun College and then to Vancouver, where she studied dental health sciences at the University of British Columbia.
Now she is back and will hopefully open her practice by summer of this year, in a space she found on Alberni Street.
When Thorsell graduated in 2016, it opened up the door to the possibility of opening an independent practice.
“At that time I thought ‘there is no way I can do this’; it was way outside my realm,” said Thorsell. “But as the years went on I thought ‘I’m done working under a dentist, I’m ready to go out on my own.’”
At first, Thorsell will be the sole dental hygienist practicing in her office, but she has space to expand in the future.
“There are 170 people so far who are waiting for me to open my door,” said Thorsell. “We are able to do direct-billing, and because [registered dental hygienists] are eligible health-care providers, we will accept insurance.”
She noted that people should contact their insurance provider first, to make sure they are covered. Recently the federal government announced a new dental plan for uninsured Canadians that “aims to provide dental coverage for middle-income and low-income Canadians; the Canada Dental Benefit is being phased in over three years.”
“There are so many systemic diseases related to gum disease; if we can prevent that, if I can open up another avenue for people to have their teeth cleaned, and stay on maintenance, it’s going to help prevent other medical issues from occurring; that’s my big thing,” said Thorsell.
Her recommendations for maintaining teeth health are: invest in a power-toothbrush, brush twice a day, limit sugar intake and clean between your teeth.
“I want to help people get healthy,” she added.