Hundreds flock Cheddi Jagan Dental Centre each day
Nominal fees charged for fillings, extractions By Samantha Alleyne

Stabroek News
October 27, 2002

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From Monday to Friday citizens from across the country flock to the Cheddi Jagan Dental Centre to have their teeth looked after.

As early as six in the morning the compound of the state-run centre, located on Carmichael Street, is filled with prospective patients waiting for the security guards to share out numbers in order for them to be attended to. Come too late and you will take your toothache home! After receiving their numbers, adults and children alike are made to sit on benches and are dealt with according to their complaints.

The centre, which was opened by the PPP/Civic government in 1998, is a three-storey building. The first floor is where patients are seen while the school and offices are housed on the second floor and on the third floor there is a conference room and library.

Because the services provided are virtually free the centre ends up seeing over one hundred persons on any given day.

There is a list of rules posted on the outside of the centre and one of these is that persons are not allowed to enter wearing short skirts or pants, armless tops or tight pants. Many persons have been turned away. But a pavement vendor located not far from the centre must have noticed the number of persons turned away and came up with the brilliant idea to keep in stock several pieces of clothing for all sizes, which she rents to those improperly dressed.

In a recent interview with Stabroek News Dr Johannes Jean, Head Dentist at the centre, said the morning session at the centre is mostly devoted to "emergency care" where extractions are done along with maxillo-facial examinations.

Patients with serious complaints are directed to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

The afternoon session is devoted to conservation care, where they do filling of teeth and prophylaxes.

"During the day we see between eighty to two hundred and fifty persons," the doctor said.

Jean said during the morning session the centre deals with about ten patients at the same time while in the afternoon they deal with around five persons simultaneously.

At around 10.30 am, the centre stops receiving patients, except for emergency cases.

He said none of the services are really paid for as adults pay $100 for an extraction and $300 for fillings and prophylaxes, while children and pensioners make no payments.

"It is not paying really, it is a symbolic contribution by the consumer given that our focus is schoolchildren. With the heavy cost of dental material, the $300 compares to $5,000 outside per filling."

He said the centre receives more persons than it can really serve, "because everybody has the need for a filling and the cost is very low here."

Fillings are done at the clinic by appointment only and because there is a rush, the centre is unable to deal with everyone. "But we do our best, with our target population which is under eighteen, then we take adults that we can take when possible, but we don't turn people away," the doctor said.

Presently there are three dental surgeons working with adults and between six and ten dentex nurses and eleven students who work with children. "For the children we have almost seventeen people who more or less work for them."

However, Dr Jean pointed out that there will always be problems at the centre in terms of dissatisfaction being expressed by patients simply because the number of patients is high.

The centre is equipped with nine dental chairs, among which are three new ones used for fillings and it is expected that fourteen new ones will arrive in the country by the end of November. Three or four of these are for the centre and the others will be distributed to the other regions. Dr Jean said the other equipment is about twenty years old and cannot be used with such a high volume of patients.

"For that reason we have set up a plan to replace all the dental chairs," he said. But that's not all: the centre also holds clinics outside of its Carmichael Street base for children.

Dr Jean said that it holds clinics at F.E Pollard Primary School, North Georgetown, St. Pius Primary and Campbellville Secondary School. He added that since 1999 the centre has had a school programme where it visits schoolchildren every morning from Monday to Thursday. They have an agreement with the Rotary Club to use the mobile bus to provide treatment for children around the country. They focus on promotion and prevention, "some people will talk whatever but the solution to dental care is not pulling out teeth every day, it is far from that. It is not also to fill people's teeth. It is to help people take care of themselves and to come at the right time before the tooth is completely destroyed," the doctor said.

It is in this light the centre will be launching `Oral Health Month' from November 3, where it will talk about oral health throughout the country.

Initially the centre only trained dental nurses but more recently a new programme was implemented which is called community dental therapy. In this programme persons are trained to provide basic dental care but deal mostly with the promotion of preventative care to children. Eighteen persons in this programme graduated last year and these persons are now stationed in Regions, One, Two, Three and Four. Dr Jean said that these persons are stationed in the regions according to their needs. In the coming years all the regions will have persons to provide basic care and to educate residents on prevention. This programme lasts for eighteen months while the dental nurses are trained for two years at the school.