La Trobe University is the latest tertiary institution to add a Bachelor of Oral Health Science degree to their curriculum to stem what it believes is a critical shortage of dental therapists and hygienists across Victoria.
The new three-year course will be run from the Bendigo campus and has been developed in partnerships with Dental Health Services Victoria and the Bendigo Health Care Group.
Associate Dean (Bendigo) of the La Trobe University Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Hal Swerissen, said the program will offer an initial intake of ten students in 2006 - rising to 30 over the next three years.
The course will see the development by next March of a new pre-clinical laboratory on the Bendigo Campus and a ten-chair dentistry teaching clinic at Bendigo Health Care. With its major focus on public dental health in rural and regional Victoria, students' clinical experience will be completed in rural areas.
Professor Swerissen said Victoria had a critical shortage of dental therapists and the program will pave the way for a new generation of dental professionals trained to meet the needs of regional Victoria.
"We believe the location of this program in Bendigo will encourage rural students to enrol and increase the likelihood of their desire to continue to work in rural locations," he said.
The Victorian Government has also provided ten scholarships through the Department of Human Services. The scholarships require students to work for Victorian public sector oral health programs for an agreed period upon graduation.
"Victoria has only half the number of therapists per population (2.9 per 100,000) than the Australian average (6.1 per 100,000) reflecting the relative lower coverage of school dental services in Victoria," Professor Swerissen said.
"Dental therapists and dental hygienists are critical to an effective public dental health care system, particularly for child dental health. They provide the majority of care in the Victorian School Dental Service.
"The program represents a significant commitment by La Trobe University and the Government to regional Victoria.
"In addition to supporting the capital works program, the Government has provided $6,666 recurrent funding per student to support pre-clinical and clinical training."