Oral Care: Does India need a robust dental care policy?

Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program must be made compulsory for every adult to identify dental problems at a very nascent stage.

Oral Care: Does India need a robust dental care policy?
A decrease in out of pocket expenses will encourage increased visits to the dentists and enhance the reduction of disease burden. (File)

By Harminder Singh Multani

The mouth is the window to the entire body. Oral and dental issues are recognized by WHO as a significant threat to public health that diminishes the quality of life by impairing the individual’s everyday functioning. Oral disorders are chronic, non-communicable diseases that not only inflict agony and discomfort but can also result in lost work hours, consequently negatively impacting the economy as a whole. Teeth misalignment and bad breath have been related to low self-esteem and poor mental health. Additionally, oral health is connected to more than 120 systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart problems such as endocarditis, and an increased risk of preterm birth during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, dental health is frequently subordinated to general health in India, and this neglect results in the maintenance of poor dental hygiene among the general population. Additionally, the increased dietary shift from traditional fiber-rich foods to sugary and synthetic foods has exacerbated the situation.

Dental caries, also known as tooth decay, affect 60% of all Indians, whereas 85% of all Indians suffer from some form of Periodontal disease. Dental decay affects nearly 85% of school-aged children, and about 20% of Indians aged 65 -74 years are toothless. Consumption of tobacco and related products is also increasing the incidence of oral cancer and related fatalities. This image demonstrates the need for a robust Health care policy in mainstream dental practices and encourages patients to seek the necessary care.

The neglect of Oral health is largely attributable to two significant groups. First, it is commonly believed that the majority of dental and oral problems are non-life-threatening and do not require immediate attention. In addition, the treatment is frequently time-consuming and expensive, preventing the patients from seeking expert help.

Second, when formulating policies, even policymakers give oral health the last priority while formulating policies, thereby shifting the emphasis from dental issues. In addition, the distribution of dentists in India is skewed, with the dentist to population ratio in urban India being 1: 10,000 in contrast to that in the rural parts of the nation, where it is close to 1: 1,50,000

However, as public awareness grows and the internets reach expands, the younger generation is gradually becoming more concerned about their oral hygiene and aesthetics. Increased expenditure on health and purchasing parity per individual had led to increased spending on oral health care services making the Indian Dental care market a USD 2 billion industry with an unprecedented growth rate of 30% YOY, making India the fastest growing dental market across the world. India will soon become the world’s largest single market for dental products, primarily due to the increasing investments in Indian markets by countries like USA and Germany. Dental Tourism accounts for 10% of the medical tourism to India, which is projected to increase to 30% in the upcoming years. With over 5000 dental labs and close to 300 dental institutes, the Indian Dental market is vast and has the manpower to initiate a positive shift in oral health awareness. The need for dental insurance in India, estimated to be worth $672.83 million in 2020, is anticipated to expand to $3,658.50 million by 2030, at a CAGR of 18.5%.

With investment groups and startups establishing multispecialty hospitals offering general dental services, the Indian dental market has enormous growth potential and is projected to expand by 20 to 30 per cent in the coming years. The immense potential of the Indian Dental Market must be changed and utilized in a way that brings Dental services to the mainstream and reduces the public oral health burden. Establishing government-backed policies that oversee India’s oral health is a potent step toward streamlining dental services, and a robust insurance framework that supports this objective adequately. Ironically, In a country like India, where health is a state subject, approximately90 % of the market is served by private care providers, making standardization of services very challenging.

Therefore, a two-pronged strategy is required to give the Oral health condition in India the due it deserves. The first phase is for the government to intervene and determine the pain areas. Significant numbers of dental assistants and dental nurses can be trained and dispatched to promote dental health in inaccessible and remote areas of the country. The government must invest in training institutes for such specialization and authorize their practice to maintain a robust and comprehensive oral health care system. Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program must be made compulsory for every adult to identify dental problems at a very nascent stage. Regular dental check-ups must be mandated at the school level to identify early dental issues amongst the children, thereby reducing the overall disease load.

The care approach must shift from a dentist-centered system to a community-centered one with effective oral health policies that will change the paradigm from curative to preventive dentistry. Patient demography, treatment history, and appointments can be maintained in a single cloud-based government-supported platform to facilitate the patient’s social insurance and financial protection. A decrease in out of pocket expenses will encourage increased visits to the dentists and enhance the reduction of disease burden.

Increasing spending on the National Health mission must be strengthened by, recruiting dentists at the Primary Health Centres, and giving more financial autonomy to the Oral health directorate of the state be concrete steps towards promoting oral health care in India.

I firmly believes that there can be no overall health without Oral health and thus recognizes the need to understand the various social, environmental, and economic determinants such as age, demography, hygiene status, literacy, housing, and the financial situations in order to formulate a robust oral health care policy that prioritizes dental and oral.

(The author is CEO, MyDentalPlan Healthcare Pvt Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)

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