A government health portal covering issues regarding dental and oral health has been launched at a national level. Oral hygiene has long been thought to be a pressing issue in Indian health, largely through neglect by the general population brought about through a lack of information.
Dental health is a useful indicator of a person’s overall health, with many severe illnesses such as bacterial endocarditis being linked to deficiencies in oral health. It is also an aspect of a person’s health that is, for the most part, easily manageable. Simply brushing the teeth twice a day or chewing sugar free gum after meals can go a long way to preventing cavities and gum disease that can require expensive surgery later.
The neglect of oral health in India has been a topic of discussion for a number of years. The Hindu discussed the issues faced in an article published in 2012. In it, a survey by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB) notes that oral treatments and procedures are only performed by dentists 47 percent of the time. Leaving 53 percent of treatments either performed by doctors or self administered.
The survey also revealed that only 51 percent of people brush their teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste, 28 percent of whom believe brushing once a day to be more than is required. Further questions indicate that 65 percent of people were unaware that diet has an impact on oral health. The implication of these results is that information regarding oral health is not reaching the public.
Ajay Sharma, senior consultant, Department of Dentistry, Max Health Care, confirms this view in a discussion with The Hindu “Only a handful of people across the country take oral healthcare seriously. For the most part, Indians only approach a dentist when faced with a crisis, and usually only after they turn 40. Then, they blame dentists for expensive and prolonged sessions,”
To combat this the National Oral Health Programme (NOHP) aims to increase the availability of information on oral health. Using mass media as well as rural word of mouth and outdoor advertising methods, the programme will spread awareness across 200 districts.
Training will take place to increase the number of people educated to diagnose and combat oral disease. Training modules are to be developed by the Centre for Dental Education and Research (CDER), AIIMS, New Delhi. The centre will be repurposed as the Centre for National Excellence for Oral Health.
State level trainers are to be taught at the CDER, who will in turn teach district level trainers. These district trainers will then bring a standardised knowledge of oral health to all health care workers in their respective districts.
The training of healthcare staff, alongside an increase in public knowledge, covers both the basic principles of oral hygiene, which would reduce disease burden significantly, as well as any more complex diseases that may arise that cannot be removed through hygiene alone. The strategy therefore, though relatively simple, is an effective one.
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This is a welcome initiative. Creating awareness is most challenging aspect as in India many consider oral health to be the last thing to be a given a thought to.