By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun
It wasn't hard picking out Thunder Bay, Ont., native Clayton de Corte as he pursued a career in health care. He spent a year studying to be a nurse at Confederation College in his hometown before he realized nursing wasn't for him, although he still wanted a career in the health sciences.
That led de Corte to dental hygiene, another occupation that is dominated by women. In fact, just 1.4% of the entire country's dental hygienists are men, says the Ontario Dental Hygienists' Association in Burlington, Ont.
Dental hygienist Clay de Corte says the enjoys meeting people from all walks of life, and helping put people in the chair at ease. (Photo, Dr. Tom Varden)
"I had all these science credits, and an old friend of mine who was in the hygiene program said, "Why don't you go in that direction?", de Corte says. He began by becoming a dental assistant, later moving into the dental hygienist program proper, also at Confederation, where he graduated in 1999 as one of only two men in his class.
de Corte now works for a downtown Toronto dental practice three days a week and can't say enough about the dentist he works with. Like many other dental hygienists, de Corte is an independent contractor and has an income his friends envy.
"I do very well. I'm earning just under $40 an hour," he says.
But it's not just the money that de Corte likes about his job. He says he gets real satisfaction from meeting people of all ages and from all walks of life, and has the knack of putting them at ease in a situation -- in the dentist's chair -- that many find stressful.
In fact, there isn't much de Corte doesn't like about being a dental hygienist. He says it can get hard on the wrists and back, and there's "a certain monotony staring into a mouth all day," but beyond that he's quite content.
Most dental hygienists feel the same way. Job opportunities remain very good on graduation and hourly pay, even for beginners, is on average $29.65, says Margaret Carter, executive director of the ODHA.
Employment in the profession is tracked nationally rather than provincially, says Carter, but she leaves little doubt that dental hygienists in Ontario can expect to find a position, usually with a dentist in private practice, sometimes in a public health clinic or with a mobile health clinic, with relative ease.
One of the reasons for the dental hygienist's enviable job prospects is the small number of graduates entering the field every year -- de Corte's class had just 18 students in it -- despite the large number of colleges that offer training.
In the GTA, George Brown College and Durham College have dental hygienist programs. In Ottawa there are programs offered at Algonquin College in English and at La Cite Collegial in French; in Sudbury there's an English program at Cambrian College and one in French at College Boreal. Elsewhere in Ontario, Niagara College in Welland, Georgian College in Orillia, Fanshawe College in London, Canadore College in North Bay, Confederation College in Thunder Bay and St. Clair College in Windsor, all have dental hygienist programs.
Private colleges have also appeared on the horizon. The Canadian Institute of Dental Hygiene in Hamilton is fully accredited and the Canadian Academy of Dental Hygiene in Mississauga and the Toronto College of Dental Hygiene and Auxiliaries await their accreditation from the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario.
Students considering dental hygiene should check the web sites or calendars of their preferred colleges, public or private, for admission requirements and fees as they vary. George Brown College, for example, will soon have dual stream training. Beginning next September the college will introduce a new four-year degree program in conjunction with the University of Toronto along side its well-established two-year diploma program.
Jackie Wade, who was a dental assistant for 23 years, is now studying to become a dental hygienist at the Canadian Academy of Dental Hygiene. A year into her compressed 18-month, $8,000 a year program, Wade admits it's not piece of cake.
"I find it very demanding. It's not an easy course," she says. Still, she remains positive about her new profession and its salaries, an aspect of the job she considered fully before returning to school full time.
Wade, who lives in Whitby, hopes to work in Durham Region when she graduates, but wouldn't mind taking her newly acquired skills abroad since she loves to travel.
Wade may not make the sunny, low-tax Cayman Islands she says, but she and the rest of her graduating class will hardly be starved of opportunity in a profession that's still prospering more than 40 years after the first hygienists showed up in dentists' offices.
(Reach freelancer David Chilton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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