NEW DELHI :
When the coronavirus outbreak shuttered nearly everything except essential services last year, data on an important category of medical professionals vanished altogether: Dentists.
After most states stopped providing data on practising dentists, the Dental Council of India (DCI), recently wrote to health secretaries of states to furnish it as soon as possible.
Dental college graduates with BDS degree are eligible to register as dentists. According to the DCI, states have different rules to renew registrations, which are mostly done every five years, or in some states, every year.
“The majority of states have not furnished data of registered dentists for the year 2020-21, which is ideally updated every April despite reminders by the DCI. Therefore, the government has written to the health secretaries to ask their respective state dental councils to immediately send data to the DCI to maintain the Indian Dental Register,” said Dr. Anil Kumar Chandna, executive member of the DCI, which is a statutory body under the Union health ministry.
“While the majority of dental surgeons are into private practice, several didn’t renew their registrations. Dental education degrees also got delayed due to pandemic, leading to many not registering for practice and choosing something else for earning bread. Despite requests, the government didn’t post dentists on covid-19 duty, leaving many dentists jobless leading to data missing on available dentists,” said Chandna.
According to the National Health Profile 2018, the number of dentists registered with DCI is over 270,000. Of this, only 7,239, accounting for a mere 2.7%, serves the government sector. According to data from the dental register, there are 81,000 under-graduate students, including students in third and fourth years, and interns, and 18,000 dental postgraduates involved in patient care.
During the pandemic, the government issued regular guidelines for dentists, initially suspending all but emergency procedures, and later shifting to protective measures. “Dentistry came to a sudden stop on 22nd of March 2020 as the lockdown brought the realization that there was a serious issue at hand. All clinics were shut, institutions closed and advisories abounded highlighting the risks of dental care,” said Dr. Anmol S. Kalha, associate director, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopaedics at Max Healthcare.
According to practising dentists, new technology, materials, and techniques have expanded India’s dental business, which was valued at roughly $1.36 billion, employing almost 2 million people directly or indirectly.
“The place was crowded as such before the pandemic and alarm bells had been rung regarding the lack of job opportunities. Less than 50% of graduating dentists were registering with dental councils for clinical practices. Rising costs of infrastructure and equipment, and concentration of dental practices in metros had begun to create a negative aura to this profession, which was at one hand being grudgingly accepted as a part of mainstream healthcare,” said Kalha.
According to a study by Network Cancer Aid and Research Foundation, about 30% of the dentists across India had to stop their practice completely, while another 43% attended only emergency cases. The working hours of the dentists were also considerably reduced to 4 hours per day from the usual 10-hour working schedule during pre-covid times. About 81% of dentists reported fewer patients, from more than 100 patients per week to less than 50 patients a week.
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