KARACHI- In our country Pakistan, there are around 40,000 non-qualified dental practitioners or we may refer to them as ‘quacks,’ who are playing havoc with the lives of people, as they have little or no concepts of infection control and sterilization, at all.
This was revealed by the experts at Aga Khan University (AKU), at a seminar ‘Role of Dentists and Value of Dental Hygienists,’ which was held to spread awareness regarding dental hygiene within the country to prevent dental ailments.
Leading dental practitioners, teachers and students attended the series of talks on the subject and toured the AKU’s Dental Simulation Lab to learn about new concepts of dentistry and dental hygiene.
According to the experts; statistically, there are only 19,539 qualified dental practitioners and 1,867 specialists in Pakistan. The dentist to population ratio is 1:1,305,811, whereas WHO recommends a dentist to population ratio of 1:75,000 for developing countries.
The experts at AKU stated that, dental hygiene was a new concept in Pakistan and in many developing countries it was still unknown. In the early 80s, roadside quacks used to extract teeth and fit dentures, and there was no concept of infection control and sterilization, due to which, diseases such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV/Aids were transmitted easily amongst patients. In some places, the scenario is still the same.
This event was attended by the President of Aga Khan University (AKU) Mr. Firoz Rasul. Other notable guests included Aga Khan University Hospital’s (AKUH) CEO, Mr. Hans Kidzierski.
Dr. Saida Rasul, Associate Director-Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene stated that, “The overall disease burden in developing countries is higher than the developed world. Prevention is not understood and the value of dental hygiene in the relevance to general health is certainly not understood. Diseases are treated on an ad hoc basis. Comprehensive care is not practiced. Diseases such as cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, oral cancers, and diabetes are rampant in the population at large.”
With its mission to respond to the current needs of the countries where it operates through quality education, Aga Khan University Medical College launched a two-year Diploma in Dental Hygiene programme in 2015.
To date, 22 dental hygienists has graduated from the program offered by AKU, who are highly specialized and have undergone rigorous education in dental hygiene theory, dental hygiene skills lab, preclinical and clinical practices as well as community health and outreach under the best faculty in Dentistry at the medical college.
The AKU now offers a two-year Associate of Science degree in Dental Hygiene that is recognized by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan. The AKU’s applicant pool for this program is from Pakistan, Uganda, Kenya, North America. These students undergo rigorous training as well as community work in low- income areas in Karachi and beyond, to raise awareness about dental hygiene.
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Dr. Sabrina Heglund, Director- Associate of Science in Dental Hygiene stated that, “Dental hygienists play an integral role as preventive health practitioners. With the prevalence of head and neck cancers in Pakistan, this checkup with dental hygienists can detect cancers earlier and improve the patient’s quality of life.”
Research shows connection between a pregnant mother’s oral health and low birth-weight in the newborn child, as well as pre-term babies with continued health issues into adult life. Research also shows the prevalence of heart disease and stroke correlated to bad oral hygiene. Diseases such as diabetes, oral cancers, reflux, stomach issues all can be or should be able to be diagnosed in the mouth by a well-trained practitioner.
Speakers discussed that by including dental hygienists into dental practice, revenue of practice at clinics can increase, by increasing focus on providing oral health counselling, performing thorough dental check-ups that can detect serious diseases, conduct smoking cessation clinics, while dentists can focus on more complex procedures. This will make oral healthcare accessible to more people.
AKU dental hygienist graduates spoke about their training experience and working in communities. Ultimately, a hygienist is to a dentist, what a nurse is to a doctor. “When nursing started as a profession, doctors were reluctant, but now the role of nurses is recognized all over the country and AKUH is the best example of this. We hope the time will come for dental hygienists and dentists to work closely together, to make oral healthcare accessible to all,” said Atiqa Inayat, AKU Dental Hygiene graduate.
Dental hygienists can surely play a leading role in eradicating systemic diseases leading to longevity of life. They can be employed in hospitals, community health centres, schools, palliative care situations and in academia.