Oral Hygiene in India
“Smile for Life” is this year’s theme for World Oral Health Day, celebrated on March 20th.
Indeed, the advancements in dental technology and equipment, and the procedures they enable, give us reason to smile.
Yet the smiles aren’t as widespread in India, where large segments of the population still lack access to the benefits of modern dentistry.
Unfortunately, the dental care services that do exist in both rural and urban areas are often sub-standard. For example, it is still very easy to find dental clinics in which hygiene is not taken seriously. Yet consumers are not fully aware of the implications of receiving treatment in a clinic where proper procedures for hygiene and sterilisation are not in place.
According to “Utilization of dental care: An Indian outlook,” a 2013 report published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, the dentist-to-population ratio is 1:10,000 in urban areas but drops drastically to 1:150,000 in India’s rural areas. Yet the report acknowledges that even in areas where the infrastructure for dental care exists, the utilisation can still remain low due to demographic, behavioral, socio-economic, cultural and epidemiological factors, leading consumers to avoid seeking dental care.
Among these factors are fear of dental treatment, and attitudes that assign lower importance to oral health. These factors indicate the need for greater education on the advancements that have made pain-managed dentistry more widely available. The general complacency toward oral health also highlights the need for better education on the link between oral health and general health.
India’s 290+ dental colleges graduate 25,000 new dentists each year. According to the Indian Dental Association (IDA), India is home to more than 1,80,000 dental professionals, 35,000 specialists and 5,000 dental labs.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 2,500 new dental clinics are needed every year to meet India’s demand for dental services. But at 40 lakh INR, the cost of setting up a clinic is prohibitive for most practitioners. India’s greatest challenge is the lack of infrastructure.
In “Oral Health: Addressing Dental Diseases in Rural India,” researchers Shawn Lin and Alison Mauk noted the significant impact that poor oral health can have on personal health, public health and health systems. Caries and periodontal (gum) disease, for example, are linked to a number of systemic health ailments. This adds to the strain on medical resources and also has consequences for economic productivity.
Why is the oral health of India’s rural population suffering? A general lack of knowledge about oral health and hygiene, as well as the improper use of fluoride products are partly to blame. Rural areas also typically lack the infrastructure needed for oral health screening and dental care services.
These problems aren’t limited to India’s rural areas. India’s oral healthcare status strongly demonstrates a great need for better education and more accessible services. The National Oral Health Programme notes that 95% of adults in India suffer from gum disease and 50% of Indians don’t use a toothbrush. The Programme also finds that 70% of children under the age of 15 have dental caries.
The Global Child Dental Fund has issued a call for improved dental health in India. Under the Fund’s Indian Strategy Project, a 2012 survey of Indian dentists found that 44% of the 1,194 dentists surveyed described the oral health of the local population as “somewhat bad.” Gum disease was identified as the oral health condition that should become a primary focus in a national effort to raise awareness around oral health.
Nineteen percent of respondents noted the low priority assigned to oral health by patients, when asked about the roadblocks that prevent them from improving the oral health of the populations they serve. Fifteen percent noted low levels of patient education.
India’s relationship with oral hygiene needs improvement. The emergence of dental networks in India can help achieve this. Their size enables achieve economies of scale that single, stand-alone clinics cannot achieve. These networks can reach out to consumers in a way that individual clinics can’t. Dental chains can also introduce the latest dental advancements without having to charge exorbitant fees, thereby offering patients great value for money. Watch for India’s relationship with oral hygiene to improve, as it surely will.
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