Oral hygiene is an important part of general health and the wellbeing of individuals. Although it is rarely given any importance compared to other major health concerns like cardiovascular diseases, oral health related problems are considered one of the main public health concerns in Sri Lanka and around the world. Oral health problems are largely preventable but still go untreated or neglected. Many people across the world still suffer unnecessarily from the pain and discomfort, and in some cases, this causes serious health implications associated with oral diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Bulletins published thus far, prevalence rates and pattern of oral diseases at a global level have changed significantly over the last few decades.
According to the published National Oral Health Survey, it was discovered that nearly 76.41% of children under the age of six years have oral health problems while only a mere 3.31% of these children have received any treatment for these oral caries. More than 68% of the children of this age needed oral hygiene instructions and around 22% needed oral prophylaxis treatment. Majority of the Sri Lankan population (more than 60%) of age groups of 6, 12, 15, 35-44 and 65-74 were unaware of their oral disease status. Among the six year olds 48% has never received any type of dental treatment.
In Sri Lanka, the established oral health service delivery system is mainly remedial-oriented. It would seem that not much effort is being put towards the correct care and preventive measures of oral health. While only some may have access to health care as required, a majority relies on the public sector health care. As such the dental public health care provision of Sri Lanka predominantly targets population groups that utilize public health services over individual persons who obtain dental care services on demand.
Since almost all oral diseases such as dental caries, periodontal diseases, tooth sensitivity and oral cancer, which are considered public health problems in Sri Lanka, are preventable and also controllable. Public dental health care is an important discipline required to improve the overall oral health and hygiene status of Sri Lanka.
At present, public dental health services are provided both at a national and regional level that is closely integrated to the existing public health Infrastructure in Sri Lanka. The main administrative body for the dental service in Sri Lanka is the Deputy Director General of Dental Services at the Ministry of Health Care and Nutrition. Teaching, general and base hospitals around the island engage in specialist and outpatient dental clinics where dental surgeons and specialists provide oral care services. The Government is also working towards providing dental students the necessary training in ICT proficiency although its results have not been very fruitful. It would seem that despite these efforts, the shortcomings in public dental care and the lack of a sustainable oral health promotion policy with achievable goals are costing the nation its overall dental health.
Prevention of oral health problems and promotion of oral hygiene have been given very little or no priority as an important measure of the aggregate oral health care system. Community dental specialists are not accessible and their services are not being provided for all parts of the island. The clinical preventive care is only being carried out by the limited number of community dental clinics, adolescent dental clinics and school dental clinics. At present, Sri Lanka does not have a functioning Oral Health Promotion Policy which targets the prevention and promotion of oral health of its entire population, as it has only reached the draft stages. However the need for such a crucial policy has been strongly identified and suggested by health professionals.
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