New law bites dentists
Dentists will soon have their hands full as many are about to lose their dental assistants.
This, say industry experts, will result in patients getting poorer dental care and dentists closing up shop.
According to legislation, due to come into effect at the end of next month, all dental assistants have to be registered with the Health Professions Council of SA, can no longer qualify on the job and need to study for a year.
Unregistered dental assistants will have to quit or face criminal sanction.
This will leave dentists unable to perform complicated procedures on their own, taking twice as long per patient.
Maretha Smit, CEO of the SA Dental Association, warned that the new regulation could drive dentists out of business and out of the country.
In order to register, an estimated 2500 unregistered assistants need to enrol at one of the 250 available places at four universities of technology that offer the course.According to East London dentist Guillaume Marx, dental training on the job is better.
"Every dentist has his own way of doing things and will instruct the assistant accordingly," he said.
Dentists who chose to employ unregistered dental assistants would be in breach of the law and could lose the right to practise, explained Werksmans attorney Neil Kirby.
An attempt by the association to challenge the legislation in court was unsuccessful.
Smit said the assciation lost the challenge because it had not initially opposed the new regulations.
"We accept it. We want to work with HPCSA," the CEO said.
The council said the regulation to register assistants was promulgated in 2005. This, it said, had given dental assistants more than 10 years to register.
HPCSA spokesm an Pris-cilla Sekhonyane said several attempts were made to assist dental assistants to register.
The minister even amended the regulations to allow dental assistants with five years' experience to register. The amendment fell away in 2012.
"Those without qualifications were given an opportunity to apply for registration at least twice," said Sekhonyane.
But Smit said: "The practical situation is that there isn't a sufficient number of registered dental assistants in the country to serve the industry.
"The only mechanism currently available to produce dental assistants will not result in enough registered dental assistants by March 31."
Smit said the association had several examples of assistants who claimed they had tried to register without success.
One assistant said she had contacted the HPCSA many times over a five-year period about registration and had no reply.
Marx has been trying to register his assistant since 2007.
He said the current situation was driving dentists out of the country and added he knew of colleagues looking at emigrating to Ireland or Canada due to the new HPCSA stipulation.