Budget needed: PH has 1 dentist per 70,000 public school pupils

MANILA, Philippines – How many dentists service 12.5 million public school students and teachers nationwide? Three hundred. That is one dentist for every 70,000 students and teachers, according to Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, who called on a much bigger allocation for oral health services in the budget.

Recto lamented that in every 10 Filipinos, 9 suffer tooth decay but only 1 can afford to see a dentist once a year, yet this year’s specified budget for oral health “is no bigger than a small caries in a tooth.” 

In a statement on Monday, March 2, Recto said it’s about time that budget for oral health care be restored as a line item in the national budget. Overall, national health allocations for 2015 amount to P90 billion.

“Nationally, there are 18 public dentists per 1 million Filipinos. In contrast, there are 3,556 elected public officials per million,” the senator said. “If every 1,000 days we hire thorough costly elections 12 senators, 292 congressmen, 81 governors, 143 city mayors, 1,491 town, 11,932 town councilors so why can't we hire more dentists?” 

“It is time to surface dental heath in the pages of the general appropriations bill,” Recto said.

He also called for more dental procedures to be included in the items covered by PhilHealth for its members.

Aside from hiring a small number of public dentists, the government also allocates scant resources for oral health care. Recto said that in 2013 the Department of Education (DepEd) spent only P9 million for dental supplies out of its P37.5 million expenses for supplies – or P2 per student.

“P9 million is half the amount the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) paid its janitors in 2013. Even the DND (Department of National Defense) spent twice more for the food and drugs of the dogs in its K-9 units in the same year,” Recto said.

Cut down on other agencies’ budgets

Recto cited “less important things” in the budgets of several agencies whose allocations can be lessened to allow an increase in the dental budget.

“Kung meron tayong 20 milyong estudyante sa DepEd at ang kalahati ay bibigyan mo ng tig-kinse pesos na sepliyo, ang P150 milyon ay katumbas lamang ng communication expenses ng Department of Agriculture sa isang taon,” Recto said.

(If we have 20 million students with DepEd, and you will give half of them toothbrushes at P15 each, then the P150 million would only be equivalent to the communications expenses of the Department of Agriculture in a year.)

“Or kung bibili ka ng P100 million worth of toothpaste, katumbas lang ’yan ng ginasta ng DAR sa gasolina noong 2013,” he said. (Or if you will P100 million worth of toothpaste, then it’s just equivalent to how much the Department of Agrarian Reform spent on gasoline in 2013.)

If the national government would cut its travel budget by 5% in 2015, it could could free up P700 million for the purchase of dental equipment, the senator said.

Recto cited a government survey that shows 1 in 7 absent from work or school at least once a month due to aching tooth or gums. – Rappler.com


Photo of dentist's tools from Shutterstock