Mobile and portable dental services catering to the basic oral health needs of the underserved population in developing countries: a proposed model
India is the second most populous country in the world with an extensive rural population (68.8%). Children less than 18 years constitute about 40% of the population. Approximately, 23.5% of the urban population resides in urban slums. The extensive rural population, school children and the urban slum dwellers are denied of even the basic dental services though there is continuous advancement in the field of dentistry. The dentist to population ratio has dramatically improved in the last one to two decades with no significant improvement in the oral health status of the general population. The various studies have revealed an increasing trend in oral diseases in the recent times especially among this underserved population. Alternate strategies have to be thought about rather than the traditional oral health-care delivery through private dentists on fee for service basis. Mobile and portable dental services are a viable option to take the sophisticated oral health services to the doorsteps of the underserved population. The databases were searched for publications from 1900 to the present (2013) using terms such as Mobile dental services, Portable dental services and Mobile and portable dental services with key articles obtained primarily from MEDLINE. This paper reviews the published and unpublished literature from different sources on the various mobile dental service programs successfully implemented in some developed and developing countries. Though the mobile and portable systems have some practical difficulties like financial considerations, they still seem to be the only way to reach every section of the community in the absence of national oral health policy and organized school dental health programs in India. The material for the present review was obtained mainly by searching the biomedical databases for primary research material using the search engine with key words such as mobile and/or portable dental services in developed and developing countries (adding each of these terms in a sequential order). Based on the review of the programs successfully implemented in developed countries, we propose a model to cater to the basic oral health needs of an extensive underserved population in India that may be pilot tested. The increasing dental manpower can best be utilized for the promotion of oral health through mobile and portable dental services. The professional dental organizations should have a strong motive to translate this into reality.
Keywords: Dental manpower, Developing countries, Mobile and portable dental services, Oral health, School dental programs