Planning the Future : The National Oral Health Plan
The government aspires to achieve a developed nation status by 2020. It is from Vision 2020 that the Oral Health Division has taken the lead to formulate a National Oral Health Plan (NOHP) for year 2010. The NOHP documents oral health goals and strategies. Goals are defined for four key oral conditions; dental caries, periodontal conditions, oral malignancies and dental injuries. The Plan also outlines strategies to ensure that all stakeholders will play their respective roles towards improving oral health and quality of life of Malaysians.
In tandem with the Malaysian government’s goal of achieving developed nation status by 2020, the Oral Health Division of the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) aims to improve the quality of life for Malaysians through the promotion of dental hygiene. Thus, the country needs more dental health professionals.We explores the various career options available in this area of work.
Dentistry in Malaysia
Cheong Chun Tin, James Logan and Frank Moffat had one thing in common − they were the earliest qualified dentists to practise in Malaya, back in the late 19th Century. In the early days, the majority of practising dentists were not formally qualified. Classified together with watchmaking and photography, dentistry was still perceived as a trade at the time. By 1924, the growing number of ‘roadside teeth pullers’ created the need to regulate the dentistry profession. This led to the enactment of the first Registration of Dentists’ Ordinance of the Straits Settlement. From 50 qualified dentists on the original register, there were, as of 31 July 2008, 3,165 qualified dentists registered with the Malaysian Dental Council (MDC).
Careers in Dentistry
With the establishment of the government Five-Year Malaysia Plans, beginning with the First Malaya Plan (1956−1960) and the Second Malaya Plan (1961−1965), healthcare planning was justified. This led to the expansion of public dental services providing a comprehensive range of dental care. In the latest Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006−2010), the number of dental facilities recorded by the end of 2007 was 2,188. It also highlighted the desire to achieve a target dentist-patient ratio of 1:4,000 by 2020. To achieve this target, there came a great demand for dentists, dental specialists and those supporting them − the dental auxiliaries.
Extracting a decayed tooth, filling cavities, scaling and repairing fractured teeth are some of the many tasks carried out by dentists. Dentistry is a career dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of oral and dental disease. Dentists are also part of the healthcare team providing advice to the public about mouth and tooth care.
Where Do They Work?
Generally, dentists are employed by private clinics or hospitals. They can also choose to work in healthcare organisations such as the dental service department of the MOH or in the armed forces. For those preferring to work in an academic setting or with a passion to educate the next generation of dentists, institutions of higher learning employ dental graduates as lecturers or as part of their research teams.
A large assortment of dentistry specialisations are available for dentists wanting to focus on a specific area. In addition to the basic dentistry qualification, a postgraduate degree is needed. This type of degree normally takes three to four years to complete, and can be in one of the following subjects:
- Orthodontia − the most popular specialisation. This deals with speech or facial abnormalities caused by the incorrect positioning of teeth.
- Orthodontists will straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth using braces
- Oral surgery − the second most popular specialisation, oral surgery involves the treatment of facial injuries, reconstruction of the oral and maxillofacial region − specifically the mouth and jaws
- Paediatric dentistry − involves the oral healthcare of children from infancy through teenage years
- Peridontology − focuses on gum diseases and the bones and tissues supporting the teeth
- Prosthodontics − the replacement of missing teeth with permanent fixtures such as crowns and bridges, or removable prostheses such as dentures
- Endodontics − deals with diseases of the tooth root, dental pulp, and surrounding tissue
- Oral pathology − the study of oral diseases
- Forensic dentistry − also known as legal dentistry, this deals with the application of dentistry to legal problems (eg using teeth to identify the dead)
- Dental public health − responsible for providing oral health care to the community through population-based strategies and community programmes.
Generally, the role of a dental nurse is to complement that of the dentist. Part of the dental care team, dental nurses assist dentists in all aspects of patient care. However, in Malaysia, dental nurses only provide actual treatment to children up to 17 years of age. They are also involved in activities promoting dental health, which includes oral health talks, exhibitions and campaigns.
In Malaysia, dental nurses are trained and employed in the public sector only. After the three-year diploma in dental nursing programme at the Dental Training College of Malaysia (Sekolah Latihan Pergigian Malaysia) in Penang, nurses will then be required to serve a compulsory five-year service with the government at dental clinics located within government hospitals, government health clinics, in schools or as part of the moving dental clinic team (Pasukan Pergigian Bergerak). Those who want to move on to work in specialists’ clinics and treat adult patients would have to undergo post-basic training.
Also known as dental technologists, dental technicians are the ones responsible for the construction of various dental aids such as dentures and braces. To meet the specific dental needs of each patient, they will use a wide range of materials including gold, porcelain and plastic.
To become a dental technician, students must complete their diploma in dental technology from the Dental Training College of Malaysia. Subsequently, they will have to serve a five-year compulsory government service before they can practice as a fully-fledged dental technician. Similar to dentists, dental technicians can find employment in a private clinic, government hospital, within health care organisations such as the dental service department of the MOH, in the armed forces or as educators and researchers.
Dental Surgery Assistant
A dental surgery assistant is required to assist the dentist or the dental nurse in the management of patients. Responsibilities include preparing the appropriate dental equipment needed, tidying the dental room and sterilising the equipment used after each session, among other duties. Sometimes assistants can be found in reception making appointments for patients, taking payments and educating patients about oral care.
Similar to nurses, upon completion of their two-year dental surgery assistant certification programme at the Dental Training College of Malaysia, dental surgery assistants will also have to serve a five-year compulsory government service at dental clinics located within government hospitals, government health clinics, in schools or as part of the Pasukan Pergigian Bergerak.
Others: Dental Assistant, Dental Therapist & Dental Hygienist
Dentistry is all about team work, it is working and coordinating with nurses, hygienists, therapists, specialties technicians, prosthetists, receptionists, dental assistants, management and others. Even though dental therapists, dental hygienists and dental assistants work under the supervision of a dentist, these professionals have very different roles in a dentist’s office. The differences between these three dental support positions center on the tasks they’re expected to perform and their level of interaction with patients.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the three is that a dental assistant provides direct aid to dentists, conducting office tasks and small, supervised jobs on patients’ teeth, while a hygienist or therapist often works one-on-one with a patient, and doesn’t have as much constant supervision. In the simplest sense, a dental assistant will typically work as an immediate aide to the physician. On the other hand, a dental hygienist or therapist works one-on-one with the patient performing a variety of different procedures. In addition to these fundamental differences, there are also differences in the education requirements, level of interaction with the patients, and salary. Unfortunately, dental clinic can’t employ dental hygienist in Malaysia. However, continue reading to learn more about the differences between dental therapists, dental hygienists and dental assistants.