Urgent Call to Teeth Woes

Alarming statistics revealing the widespread problem of tooth disease Tuesday prompted calls by top health officials for immediate actions.

A recent official survey shows that about half of the country's children under the age of 12 are suffering from tooth decay. Just 2 percent of people aged between 35 and 44 have no oral health problems.

However, there is a big gap between the demand for oral care and the supply of dentists in the country, according to Zhang Boxue, vice-president of the National Committee for Oral Health under the Ministry of Health.

Statistics show that there is only one dentist for every 50,000 people in the country which has a population of 1.3 billion. By comparison, in Sweden, the proportion is 1: 800.

In addition, it has been estimated that more than 80 percent of China's dentists are working in big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. That has left farmers - who make up 70 percent of the country's population - seriously short of oral health care.

In rural areas, there are still many people who do not know how to brush their teeth correctly - or who do not want to spend their limited money on toothpaste and toothbrushes.

In addition, many people in China still do not realize that toothache is a disease and consequently do not seek medical care for the problem, Zhang said.

In China, government subsidies are not enough to provide adequate tooth disease prevention, according to Yin Dakui, vice-minister of health.

Yin recently made his comments at the opening ceremony of a nationwide oral health promotion campaign which aims to improve people's awareness of oral care and to boost disease prevention.

The coming five years will see promotional activities stepped up, according to Paul Neely, corporate development director of Unilever (China) Ltd.

The campaign is jointly sponsored by the ministry and Unilever company. It plans to donate 7.5 million yuan (US$900,000) to the campaign.

Priority will be given to providing grass-roots dentists with professional training. It is hoped that they will then foster the widespread promotion of prevention techniques.

Yin said the ministry would welcome more enterprises, organizations and individuals to get involved in education work in the future.

(China Daily 06/13/2001)

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