Published: Sunday | February 22, 2015
In the past week, reports have surfaced of persons being asked to purchase their own needles to take to the dental clinics, while some facilities have just put up notices that dental services are not available,
Chief dental officer for Jamaica, Dr Irving McKenzie, acknowledged that there are issues with dental supplies at some health centres across the island, but argued that a patient would never be asked to purchase needles, and these are only sold to medical practitioners.
"There are centres, yes, where there is shortage of supplies, but the number one issue is that dental service is a highly demanded service. And right now, you find that among the vulnerable population it is one of what we call the most unmet needs," said McKenzie.
"So what we find is that a lot of clinics quickly run out of resources, because of the demand. As it relates to the adult population, the service that is highly demanded is extraction, and we are trying to move away from extractions to provide patients with other value-added services, such as doing root canals, and we are trying to do the fillings before they reach a critical stage. We, in one year, had more than 200,000 extractions," said McKenzie.
Shortage of dentists
He further pointed out that there is a shortage of dentists, leaving dental clinics without a specialist.
"We really, in Jamaica, have a problem in terms of dental surgeons," argued McKenzie.
He argued that with the shortage of supplies, the State attempts to build certain redundancies into the system so that persons can be treated at a nearby facility.
"Like, for example, in Kingston and St Andrew which is divided into zones, and we have had some issues in zone one in terms of supplies and no dentist because of retirement, but we also have a backup in zone two, which is not far from there ... you have the referral system that could chip in and assist when someone is in urgent need of care," argued McKenzie.
But when our news team toured the Corporate Area these redundancies seem to have vanished.
At the Windward Road Health Centre, there is a notice on the door to the dental clinic that no dentist was available to treat adults.
Sources indicated that from early last year the facility has operated with only dental nurses present and they can treat only children. But not all children can be treated as there are some procedures that the dental nurses could not offer due to a shortage of supplies.
One mother who was present with her two children said she had been trying to get appointments for them for close to a year. The younger of the two was finally seen on the day of the news team's visit.
"Every time I come they say they have taken children for the term already. Same thing at Harbour View where they say no appointments for especially adults until further notice," the mother shared.
At the Denham Town Health Centre, a query about an extraction was met with an appointment for "the first week of March as the dentist will not be available until then".
Treatment not guaranteed
However, an employee was quick to point out that even then the treatment was not guaranteed as "they are short of a lot of things; needles, suction tip, gloves. And if we don't have any gloves we can't do anything."
Enquiries at the Norman Gardens Health Centre revealed that there were no needles so they are unable to do extractions.
There was a notice at the Slipe Pen Road Health Centre which reads: 'No appointments are available for children at this time. If child is having pain or swelling take child to be treated as an emergency.'
A similar notice was present at the Duhaney Park facility: 'Due to a shortage of supplies we will not be able to make any appointments for children until further notice. All emergencies will be seen.'