Shortage of dentists affecting oral health
Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator
Medical Doctor and Custos Rotolorum of Hanover, Dr David Stair, has called for what he says is a national push to promote oral health in Jamaica, especially in light of the island's low patient-to-dentist ratio.
Stair made his comments during his address at the Jamaica Dental Auxiliaries 17th Annual Conference at the Grand Palladium in Hanover last week.
"Without good oral hygiene, as far as I am concerned, the health of an individual definitely becomes compromised," Stair said. "Jamaica is woefully short of dentists - rural areas more so than the urban areas. Many of you work in communities, in the schools, where the only dental services that are available are those provided by you, the dental auxiliaries", he added.
The custos rotolorum also expressed particular concern about the poor state of the teeth and cases of dental caries (tooth decay) seen in the mouths of many young children within Hanover.
"Many of our children are not exposed to dental care until their mouths are filled with rotted teeth. Some of them are so bad, it reminds me of the roads I drive on to get home," Stair quipped.
"The importance of what is commonly referred to as baby teeth to the overall growth of a child has not been embraced by many of our people. Many of our mothers still put babies to sleep with a bottle of sweet drink or milk in their mouths. And for those who believe the baby's mouth does not have to be cleaned until there are enough teeth to brush, as a medical practitioner, I see the consequences of such fallacies," he added.
Stair told the dental auxiliaries that they had a vital role in oral-health public education, prevention and care, which he said was of paramount importance to the "ordinary people of this country".
"Possibly, you could look at how you can ramp up the public education in our communities around good dental health and hygiene. This should be part of the national push towards healthy lifestyles, which ultimately will save this country a lot of money," he said.
In 2013, while speaking at a University Diabetes Outreach Programme press conference on oral health, Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson, himself a dentist, acknowledged what he said was the critical link between oral health and several non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, stroke, amputation, eye disease, and kidney disease.
Ferguson had also said oral health should be made a priority if the country was to see a reduction in these diseases.
At the time, Ferguson stated that, as it relates to dental care figures, the current ratio was one dentist to 17,000 people, but that the Government was urgently working to improve this.
The University of the West Indies, in a 2011 research paper titled Oral Health Inequalities in the Caribbean, prepared by Dr Rahul Naidu, Dr Ramaa Balkaran, and Dr Avind Harracksingh of the School of Dentistry at the St Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago, noted that oral health in the Caribbean region has largely been a low priority for regional governments.
"Public dental services provide most of the care, with private-practice treatment being difficult to access for the most disadvantaged groups. This has resulted in inequalities in oral health, with a growing gap in health status across the social spectrum," the authors noted in their report.
"National surveys have found primary school-age children to be most at risk for dental caries and the group most likely to attend for emergency dental care," the report said.
Dr David Stair