Dental damage

MOUNT SALEM, St James — Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has expressed concern that unneeded and sometimes damaging extractions are being done on Jamaicans as a way for dental students from abroad to gain experience, and has suggested a policy document, crafted by his ministry’s Oral Health Unit, to streamline missions that come into the country to perform dental procedures.

These visiting volunteers often offer their services to the most needy in rural areas of the country that fall through the cracks of the local system; however, Tufton has said that some of them are doing more harm than good.

“We want to put a pause or reduce that. For starters, it doesn’t feel right or look right because it can be interpreted as them coming in to take advantage of our population by practising to extract teeth and then leaving these Jamaicans in a state where they now have other issues,” the minister said during a visit to the dental department at Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in Montego Bay last Thursday after his ministry presented two new mammogram machines to the hospital, with assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency and Pan American Health Organization.

In addition to the aesthetic damage, he said, some locals who have had their teeth removed also suffer from social and economic challenges along with the onset of other oral health problems.

He has warned that missions which do not provide holistic health care may have a challenge getting into Jamaica in the future.

“If [extraction] is all you are coming to do, and bringing dental students who may be competent to do it but are just coming to fulfil hours and practise, we are going to be less welcoming. Because what we want is a proper oral health programme. If you come with a mission, the mission must be fulsome and must create a more long-lasting benefit to the local population,” Tufton stressed.

Procedures, he said, should also include efforts to save teeth, such as filling, reconstruction dentures, and the reproduction of dentures.

“In a sense, we really need them to come and help us solve some of the problems that they have created. And I say so with the greatest of respect, because I know, at the time of delivery, it is perceived as a good service. But over time it becomes a challenge and we don’t want any interpretation that the people are taking advantage of my teeth to come and practise on people through extractions alone,” the minister said, adding that the hospital has a responsibility to provide the best care to patients.

“We have to put more money [and] more resources into equipping them so that when a patient comes in with a toothache it shouldn’t be that the only option [the dental staff] has, because they lack equipment or material, is to extract. They must have the capacity to assess, do X-rays, fill, replace, whatever. That is not their burden; it is our burden in Government. We must put the equipment in place,” said the minister.

“So I have asked for a review of that process in order to ensure — through [chief dental officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness] Dr Irving McKenzie — that we adequately equip our Oral Health Unit. Our oral health is a big part of overall health,” stated Tufton.

October is celebrated as Oral Health Month. Last year Governor General Sir Patrick Allen declared October 2 as Oral Health Professionals Day in Jamaica.