Ashley McCarthy’s, a hygienist in Canada, workday starts at a Calgary-area school, but she’s not a teacher. She’s one of an increasing number of dental hygienists in Canada starting their own clinics taking advantage of recent changes in provincial regulations.
McCarthy of Toof Inc cleans client’s teeth at her mobile clinic in downtown Calgary, Alberta. Ms. McCarthy has found a niche in the market, giving presentations about oral health to students and then performing teeth cleaning for students right at the school.
Alberta bylaws allow dental hygienists to work outside of a traditional dental office, without the direct supervision of a dentist. Other provinces in Canada such as Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland have similar bylaws, while Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have regulations with some restrictions.
What Can Hygienist’s Perform
While regulations vary from province to province, hygienists are generally able to perform many of the basic dental and oral health functions for patients: simple dental exams, X-rays, fluoride treatments, plaque removal and cleaning, and working with appliances such as mouth guards. More detailed services such as detailed exams or treatments like filling cavities are still restricted to dentists.
Ms. McCarthy has found a niche in the market, giving presentations about oral health to students and then performing teeth cleaning for students right at the school. How she does this, is that Ms. McCarthy sterilizes an empty room, sets up her tools and suddenly, there is a make-shift dental office next to the school cafeteria. Students only miss about forty minutes of class time and parents don’t have to take time away from their own jobs to drive the kids to a dental appointment. Ms. McCarthy works closely with dentists in her area as she performs these more simple dental tasks.
What are the Numbers
Alberta was one of the first provinces in all of Canada to adopt these changes over ten years ago. Over the past decade, other regions have followed suit. Since that time, the number of dental hygienists becoming entrepreneurs has jumped. The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association say they now have 1,100 independent practitioners across the country. This is a number that doubled in just two years, going from 3% of their membership to 6% of members from 2015 to 2017.
The vast majority of those hygienists are women. Melanie Martin, director of dental hygiene practice at the CDHA, says male hygienists only make up around 2.5% of the membership. It’s a field that’s been dominated by women for decades and with new regulations, more women are combining the dental work with entrepreneurship.
Ms. McCarthy opened up Toof Inc. three years ago. She now works fewer hours than when she was at a dental office, but takes home more of the profit. Because she’s mobile, she doesn’t pay for office space or additional staff salaries, and she’s able to save her patients money by offering lower rates. Sounds like a win-win.
“I charge right along with the Alberta fee guide,” Ms. McCarthy says, where a base unit for scaling – that is, cleaning away plaque and tartar from the teeth – costs a little over $67.
More Hygienists Starting Businesses
In Edmonton, Trish Clayton of Right to You, a mobile dental hygiene service, recommends that all her clients still visit a dentist about once a year. When she’s doing her examinations she’ll note whether anything requires further work. But she also agrees clients often save money when they hire her.
“When I recommend something to them, there’s no financial benefit to me, so they don’t feel like they’re being sold.”
She decided to open her own business to have more flexible hours. Ms. Clayton offers evening and weekend appointments and only sees about five clients a day. Being her own boss has allowed her to spend more time with her family.