It is heartening to see a new push to oral health by the Union Health Ministry, and this is important for many reasons. A Nature report, quoting Indian National Cancer Registry Program, had pointed out that there has been a worrying rise in cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract (mouth, tongue, gold-pharynx, hypopharynx, larynx, and esophagus). Tobacco Survey India, in 2009-10, revealed that 35% of adults used tobacco Tobacco-related cancers are expected to constitute 30% of the total cancer burden by 2020.

What makes it alarming is the fact that chewing tobacco is fast acquiring a notorious proposition with the youth and elderly getting addicted to it in equal measures. The situation is grim both in urban and rural areas. The prevalence of oral ailment has been high in the country with dental caries and periodontal diseases being the two most common diseases.

It is also a well-known fact that oral health is associated with various systemic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and pregnancy, and therefore the quality of our lives. Lack of awareness coupled with infrastructure gaps, including equipment and machinery are denite roadblocks and have hurt the health of oral care in the country.

But things seem to be changing. The health ministry is formulating an oral health policy focussed on dental health promotion, prevention and treatment. It is learned that the weak policy framework on oral healthcare, the government is keen on having a stronger policy in order to promote prevention, streamline data collection and registration, improve quality of dental education, eradicate myths, eliminate rural-urban divide in oral healthcare and reduces morbidity caused by oral-related diseases.

Priority areas

There are four priority areas that the government must consider. First and foremost, quality has been a big area of concern, and more so in rural areas. Since oral care requires the best of sterilization and hygiene protocols, it is essential that a national framework is developed in consultation with different stakeholders, most notably dentists and dental students.sterilisation and hygiene protocols, it is essential that a national framework is developed in consultation with different stakeholders, most notably dentists and dental students.

Second, the government must push for a national agenda on highlighting how signicant oral care is for overall well-being. There is a massive need for step up awareness by involving all stakeholders including schools, colleges, gram panchayat, district administration, dental colleges, voluntary groups and the private sector.

National Oral Health Policy

As part of the National Oral Health Policy (2014-15), the Center for Dental Education & Research (AIIMS) had conceptualized and developed a Training Manual on Oral Health Promotion for School Teachers. This was issued by the Dental Council of India. There may be merit in translating it into regional languages.conceptualised and developed a Training Manual on Oral Health Promotion for School Teachers. This was issued by the Dental Council of India. There may be merit in translating it into regional languages.

We also consider using audio-visual tools and social media platforms to widely serve in rural areas. Despite being home to a surplus of over 1.2 lakh dentists, our rural deployment of dentists is very poor. Against a WHO-recommended dentist to population ratio of 1: 7500, our ratio is 1: 10271.

With less than 25% of our Primary Health Centers having a dentist, I am of the view that the proposition of placing a dentist per 30,000 population is highly desirable. While for the Tenth Five Year Plan, we have managed to increase the number of dental colleges in India, the spread of dental specialists in rural areas has always been a matter of concern.

Fourth, we must work on strengthening infrastructure to support wide and uniform access to oral healthcare. Other than specialist practitioners, oral health is also intricately linked to a basic infrastructure. The 'Make in India' program can be leveraged to encourage local manufacturers to create a robust machinery and equipment. We must also work on creating an adequate pool of dental auxiliaries, including oral hygienists and dental technicians to ensure all-round service.