LAST_UPDATEWed, 20 Jun 2018 12pm

Tell Your Kids To Study Dentistry - Malaysia Need 10,000 Dentists By 2020

Dr Kamsiah Gulam, a Prosthodontist pic: mDDr Kamsiah Gulam, a Prosthodontist pic: mDDO you brush your teeth after every meal? 

We thought so. Most Malaysians don’t.

When it comes to dental health, Malaysians are largely ignorant about the needs for dental healthcare.

The typical Malaysian diet has high sugar, salt and MSG content, which has a detrimental effect on oral health and hygiene.

Bad breath is also a common oral hygiene problem with Malaysians. 

But even more Malaysians are ignorant about the importance of the dental profession.

The concerns for dental healthcare in the country was never highlighted more significantly than recently by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam.

According to him, there aren’t enough dentists in Malaysia and we need more to fill up the minimum requirement by the time we become a developed country.

“The current ratio is one dentist to 6,436 residents,” Dr Subramaniam said in a newspaper report, adding the ministry hoped to achieve the target of 1:3,000 by 2020.

Of the 4,558 dental practitioners, 58% of them are serving the government and 42% in the private sector.

Also according to Subramaniam, the dental sector was an important basic need for the development of a country, and the ministry is committed in providing the necessary infrastructure and programmes.

But how many parents actually send their children to study dentistry?

To reach the desired ratio, we need more than 5,000 Malaysians to join the profession.

He said Malaysia produced 600 university graduates in 2012, 800 this year and more than 1,000 next year.

To find out more about the state of the profession, Malaysian Digest met with a long-standing dental surgeon with her own practice in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.  

Dr Kamsiah Gulam Haider is a prosthodontist, a dentist with 22 years of experience as a dental surgeon.

She does mostly general dentistry but focuses more on implant dentistry, aesthetics dentistry and geriatric dentistry.

Interestingly, she agrees with the need to fill the number of dentists needed by 2020 but she also raised the importance to have hygienists in the country.

“It is okay to have 10,000 dentists by 2020 but we are not developing (because) we are not addressing the real issue. All (we have is) universities training (people to become) doctors and dentists.

“But we don’t have trained hygienists. In fact, in our country, it is illegal to have hygienists. Why? Because they don’t want people who are not trained as a dentist to touch the patient,” explained Dr Kamsiah.

She goes on to explain further.

 “Like (in) other countries, before a patient meets the dentist, they would first meet a hygienist. The (patient) will go for a clean-up (first), that is why the scaling (removing plaque) part is (normally) done by the hygienist, not the dentist.”

So what happens is, in our country is that, we train a lot of generals, but we don’t have the soldiers,” added Dr Kamsiah, giving an analogy of a typical rank and file scenario.

“So, now since the ministry said there (should be) 10,000 (new) dentists, (but out of that number) how many dental hygienists are we going to have?” said Dr Kamsiah, posing a rhetorical question.

Dr Kamsiah thinks government is not catching up with the developments in the dental profession yet.

“To (have the) numbers, (the government must) make sure that they improve the (skills within the) dental profession.

“We need to train (dentists to become dental) technicians. For instance, my practice requires the need of a (dental) technician. We (have had to) send patients to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Germany and Holland because we don’t have enough dental technicians.”

But what exactly does a dental technician do?

“You see, (for) some patients who (have lost their) teeth, a (typical dental) clinic in Germany or Holland would be able to do it in one day. But here in our country, it would take up to at least up to one month.

“Why does it take a month? Because (right now) we don’t have expertise, we are not developing, we are sending a lot of students to universities to get a dentist degree (at a dentist school) but we should (also include) a nursing school, hygienist school, technical school.

“We are not preparing for the obvious. We are into big numbers only but did not put some research into the real problem that we are facing. We are facing the shortage of professionals in (technical dentistry),” revealed Dr Kamsiah.

She said that in order to meet the international standard, first we have to follow the international standard of dentistry.

Dentists are required in rural areas. pic: Google Images Dentists are required in rural areas. pic: Google Images Dr Kamsiah said the problem isn’t so much a shortage as poor distribution.  

According to her, there is a need to find ways to move these dentists into the rural areas.

She said new graduates in dentistry should be posted into rural areas.

“I don’t know why are the mindset is that they don’t want to go to Sabah and Sarawak, especially.

“The people in rural areas are actually very interesting, people will treat you well because you know... you are a doctor to them and the people there appreciate the presence of a dentist,” said Dr Kamsiah highlighting the positives of working as a dentist in rural areas. 

“To the dentists out there, you cannot be a doctor or dentist if you think of (salary) first. (In) this profession, money is just a consequence of doing the right thing,” she added.

The dentist also said that in Malaysia it is hard to create adequate awareness about dental health. 

“The awareness of the important of the hygiene is not there.  Not many people aware about (the importance of) dental health,” she said.

She also points out that in Malaysia, dentists can’t advertise their services.

“We cannot advertise. Therefore how can we broadcast the knowledge? There is a lot of restriction for dentistry in Malaysia, ministry should look into it also if they want to produce more quality dentists in future,” she said, adding she attends up to 20 patients in a week.

She, who obtained three post graduate degrees in dentistry, said that early education is equally important.

Since primary school, most are aware with the importance of dental health and the dentistry profession.

According to her, to close the oral health awareness gap is to better educate both patients and children about the importance of oral health.

“We have to educate them about (oral hygiene, dentists and dentistry), many of them doesn’t want to see the dentist (perhaps) because of their bad childhood experience with going to the dentist.

“Why (must dentists) appear scary in front of the kids? Schools and the government must work in tandem (to eliminate this negative perception). Don’t portray dentists as a bad person,” she added.

According to research conducted in 2005, the government found some 76.2% children in the country have dental care problem and each child has an average of six cavities.

Dr Kamsiah is however confident that the government can achieve the numbers by 2020 (only)if the Health ministry places more concern about the quality, not just the quantity within the dental profession.

“What can we achieve by 2020? In terms of the dental and medical profession, Korea and Thailand are progressing (at a faster rate) than us. Where we are today, they were here 10 years ago.

Currently there are a total of 50 dental clinics and a mobile dental unit in the country. Dental departments have also been set up at 929 schools, 570 health clinics and 65 hospitals.

The Health ministry has also launched an oral health programme at 874 kindergartens, involving 17,722 children, in 2012.

“If we fix the education system, get the politics right, get the economic right, improve according to the world standard, I’m sure we can achieve (the goal set), “she said ending the interview. 

The ministry also noted that 2012 saw the graduation of 315 dentistry students, and the number is said to increase to 815 this year is expected to grow to 1,100 in 2014.

But it is clear to see that more is needed. 

So let's do something about it.