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DCI Perspective

Nov 2009 — Vol. 3, Iss. 5

Guidance Toward the Future of Dental Education in India

(Hony) Brig Dr Anil Kohli

President, Dental Council of India

India has a long tradition of leadership in dental education, from ancient medical texts to the establishment of its first dental college (R. Ahmed Dental College) in the early 1940s—culminating in our current status as world leader in the number of dental colleges. In the past few years, we have experienced an exponential growth of private dental colleges. We must develop systems to drive this growth in a direction that benefits our students and the health of our population. Our aim is to have good oral health for every citizen of India. To sustain this in today’s world, we have to include the quality of education.

India’s educational system includes 290 dental colleges, with approximately 22,000 new students annually. With a population of over 1 billion, this country requires a great number of qualified dentists. There are an estimated 80,000 dentists in India; however, the geographic distribution of these dentists is inadequate and of great concern. More than 70% of our population resides in rural areas, while only 10% of dentists practice there. Ninety percent of dentists are congregated in urban areas, where many are unable to find enough patients or employment, and therefore must resort to an alternative profession. At the same time, many of our rural citizens lack access to dental healthcare.

In order to expand oral healthcare delivery, the government is keen to reach out at the grassroots level through a national rural health strategy, and we are striving hard to have a dentist as part of it. The Dental Council of India (DCI) wants dental services to be available at primary Health Centres for the common people.

At the same time, we need to protect the education of dental students to ensure that their learning experience does not become diluted during this growth period. The current increase in dental colleges—and therefore student enrollment—has created an acute shortage in qualified faculty. To meet this challenge, we strongly encourage these institutions to recruit and promote successful faculty, and to provide them with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. Other strategies include temporarily increasing the faculty retirement age from 65 to 70, employing teleconferencing classroom opportunities, inviting visiting faculty, and suspending the establishment of new dental colleges.

In addition, the quality of the educational experience itself is being closely monitored and evaluated. Dental colleges are now subject to uniform rules and standards. The DCI has strongly urged a moratorium on the establishment of new dental colleges, especially in urban areas, unless they are affiliated with a medical college. The government has also proposed subsidizing dental treatment for people living in poverty, so that more patients will be able to visit the college dental clinics. This will therefore provide the students with increased experience.

The objectives of private education/public health are unbalanced at this time. The weight of the government is necessary to bring order and stability to this system. To provide qualified dentists where they are most needed, we must commit to providing generous incentives, expenditures, and structures wherever we can. This will benefit our young students, our experienced practitioners, their patients, and the quality of life throughout our country.