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A Helper’s Unanswered Cry for Help

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By: Dr Adil Rasool Malik

The oral cavity acts as a portal into the realms to one’s systemic health. It helps in identifying a lot of diseases before your body starts showing any signs. Our oral cavity is responsible most importantly to help with several basic functions like talking, mastication, swallowing, esthetics and so much more. However, it still has never found its much deserved limelight similar to the dentists who study for numerous years only to sit unemployed and struggle to break even.

The fate of the qualified dental surgeons in Kashmir has been in a predicament since 2008 except for the last year when J&K Public Service Commission opened its doors and accepted 360 dental doctors. Since then it has been just negligence, unfulfilled hollow promises by various government representatives and futile wait that has filled the minds and hearts of the dentists. This has led to a subsequent cycle of increased financial debts as more and more dentists are giving up any hope for aid from the governmental agencies and setting up their own dental clinics. COVID has further worsened the condition due to the lockdown and halting of elective surgical procedures.

Seen from another perspective, this has also led to a severely compromised dental care available to the patients here. With no government vacancies, there is a severe shortage of dental staff in various public heath setups and thus people aren’t able to avail quality services and care regarding their oral health. With more and more dentists switching to the private sector, the cost of treatment has increased substantially owing to the expensive armamentarium and other investment that a dentist needs to make in order to setup their own clinics, thus making routine dental care and treatment unaffordable to a major chunk of the masses, jeopardizing the oral health status of the community.

WHO recommends an ideal dentist to population ratio to be 1:7500. The embarrassing figures of Jammu and Kashmir stand at 1:30,000. This is not due to the lack of qualified personnel, as India has the second largest number of dentists worldwide, but the plight is due to the negligence in the region leading to 6000 eligible candidates sitting idle and being left to God’s mercy. According to the statistics, Jammu and Kashmir needs a minimum of 2026 dentists for its estimated population of 1.52 crore. Currently, only 543 posts have been created and occupied which leaves a void of 1483 vacancies which should be urgently filled to meet the bare minimum requirements set by international standard for proficient oral healthcare.

The dentists have tried, time and again, to make themselves heard – for their own betterment and the betterment of the community, a call that has remained unanswered and has been rejected owing to ‘no room for budget allocation for dental needs.’ This callous attitude towards considering dental treatment as a priority treatment is also evident from the sheer fact that dentists are not a part of any nationwide missions like the Ayushmaan Bharat, National Health Mission etc., whereas various realms like Unani sciences, Ayurveda and soon have been brought under the umbrella. Over the past several years, various dental organisation bodies have staged protests, time and again, demanding attention and being considered more than just Doctors on a piece of paper to actual realization and recognition for their set of skills and knowledge.

In 2014, J&K Dental Surgeon Association staged a month long protest demanding creation of vacancies on urgent basis to save the educated youth from unemployment. This resulted in a proposal being created for the purpose of recruiting dental surgeons and consultants. However, all efforts were futile and all dreams remained unfulfilled as the file kept getting rejected time and again from the J&K finance ministry quoting financial constraints. Continuous efforts, protests, petitions did make a slight dent as the proposal was reconsidered and the governmental agencies initiated the process for creation of 587 posts, although till now there has been no official notice regarding the same and recruitment still remains a dream.

Once again the youth is on the streets, demanding what is righteously theirs-recognition of their skill, a chance to be employed and deliver care to the community. Being patrons of financial baggage due to the circumstances around them, these helpers have been reduced to parasites in their own eyes. Spending lakhs and lakhs in their education, equipment, setting cost for clinics – yet no respite and no earning has led them to lose their sense of dignity and faith in themselves and the system. The ongoing protest by the J&K Dental Surgeon Association thus is another attempt to bring the limelight to their issues- to be heard and accounted for. It’s time the Governmental authorities take note and necessary actions to urgently hire qualified personnel at the same time recognizing dentists as a part of the various governmental missions to provide healthcare to the community. Now it is time to remind these unsung heroes that they are more than just a piece of paper- their efforts and will to serve humanity is recognized and appreciated.

The author besides being a Dentist works on various social issues especially related to youth. [email protected] & twitter @drmalikadil

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