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Dentists to stand in as doctors?

It is no secret that India is short of doctors. In many areas, the situation is so dire that India holds a deficit of several thousand qualified professionals, leaving many public hospitals understaffed. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have devised a potential solution: allow dentists to practice medicine.

Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock PhotoCould such a solution work? Potentially it could simply divert attention from one area of health and hygiene to another. This is not the first ostensibly unorthodox solution to doctor shortages offered up by the Centre.

A similar proposal was met with considerable amounts of concern in which the government suggested allowing bridge courses for those being trained in ayurvedic courses to practise a limited form of allopathic treatment.

There are potentially one million quack doctors operating freely in India. Their prevalence among the population is likely due — at least in part — to the lack of real doctors and medical infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

Quack doctors are typically defined as an individual practicing medicine with no formal training or medical license. While the ayurvedic practitioners would have some training as part of the bridge course, practicing allopathic treatment with only a small amount of training could result in numerous botched procedures and treatments, potentially causing more harm than good.

In the case of dentists, they already fulfill a health role, diverting attention from their role as dentists to fill the void left by the lack of doctors simply reduces the time spent on dentistry. Again, India is short of dentists, so the issue is simply shifted from one place to another, potentially offering healthcare of a lower standard than a trained doctor may provide at the expense of providing professional dental treatment.

Despite potential shortcomings, the proposal is gaining traction. The proposal has already received a nod from Prime Minister Office (PMO) on 9 April 2019 and is due to be discussed in further meetings.

Professional dental bodies are supportive of the idea. “[A] large number of dentist population available which are taught basic medical subjects,” said Dibyendu Mazumdar, president, Dental Council of India (DCI). “[With] Dentistry being a part of allopathy it is right time for the Dental Council of India to utilize human resources for dual purpose, that is a health professional who is capable of extending dental as well as medical health care.”

While true that dentists are already trained in some of the same practices as standard doctors such as operating procedures and clinical hygiene, the proposal seems to be more of a temporary fix than a solution. Diverting manpower from another field could simply spread the burden. In order to fully address the problem, India needs to train more doctors, as well as incentivise those who are trained not only to remain in the country, but to operate in rural regions.

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