Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Dentists Need Not Contact"

Karnataka CET cell publishes the list of available seats in various colleges everyday in the news papers during the period when counseling for seats is on. I felt bad to see that the BDS seats were the last to fill and seats in many colleges had no takers.

I had heard that the sign boards indicating a Dental clinic were just next in numbers after the boards of Pepsi and coke in Bengaluru and that many dental graduates have taken up jobs as representatives and in BPOs.

Dentists in the coastal belt of Goa keep pamphlets advertising their trade in tourist taxis and pay the driver a commission for bringing in patients.

One of the matrimonial advertisements in the classified columns of a newspaper said “dentists need not contact”. Fortunately I got married before such sentiments settled in but I do feel bad to see  the degradation of my profession.

But these thoughts had remained in a corner of my mind and shaped  this article when this lady came to the clinic asking for extracted teeth. 

Students of dentistry, visiting a clinic asking for extracted teeth is something quite common. I used to do it when I was in second year and I am sure almost all my professional colleagues have done the same. We wanted natural teeth to practice our skills before we were let loose on patients and good teeth were in short supply. We had to run around a bit in search of extracted teeth but in the end, all of us did manage to get the required number of teeth. Either from our college or from private clinics. To get the teeth from our surgery department we had to rely up on the servants in the department and tip them a rupee or two for their services ( for ‘tea’) which involved picking up the extracted teeth from the bucket, collecting them in a bottle and handing them over to us.

But now it seems that the dentists have taken over the business.

It was a lean day, there were no patients and I was searching for some flies to hunt and keep myself occupied. There were no flies even. Only a few mosquitos which are not much of a help in killing time. Mosquitos are no challenge for a person having a lifetime experience in hunting flies. Towards closing time I saw a middle aged lady parking her scooter in front of the clinic and thought that the day’s milk and vegetable expenses at least are met. I tried to guess what her complaint would be. Usually I can make out a case of severe tooth ache right on the street. There was no sign of pain here. May be a fallen filling or teeth to be cleaned.  Anything was welcome. I greeted her as she entered. 

“Good evening, What can I do for you?”

“I did not come for any treatment doctor. (Hope of milk and veg money dashed) My daughter is doing her BDS (Why? Oh god, why did you not give her better sense?) and she wants some extracted teeth for her practicals. Mr Parab told me – you know Mr Parab don’t you? He is my neighbour. It seems he was working with you when you were in the government hospital – that you have many patients and will be able to help me. Please doctor, if you have some teeth give me.” She proffered a plastic bottle.

Without showing my disappointment and wistfully wishing Mr Parab was right, I told her that I did keep some extracted teeth but they were taken by a student who had visited me some days earlier. I assured her that I would keep some for her if I removed any good teeth and asked her to comeback in a week or two.

“But she wants few teeth urgently doctor. She is having a test.  Please give if you have any. I will pay you any price you want for them.” She opened her purse.

It was true that I was looking for someone to come and pay for my daily expenses but neither my finances nor morals were so bad as to sell extracted teeth to dental students. So, I told her that there is no need to pay for the teeth and that I would certainly keep aside some teeth for her daughter. I explained to her that the students need good teeth that are not decayed and nobody in their senses get good teeth pulled out. I told her that I will have to wait for someone to come with a shaking tooth or a wisdom tooth which is stuck half way and that they are not very frequent. I assured her that I would surely keep some if I removed any good ones and sent her off. She left dejectedly. She would have been happier and would have believed in my abilities to supply the teeth if I had quoted a price and asked for an advance.

Recently I have come across not less than half a dozen parents who have come in search of extracted teeth for their wards studying dentistry in other cities and at least half of them have offered money for the commodity. The very fact that people were offering money for extracted teeth indicate that there are dentists who have been ‘selling’ them. I know that there is a cut throat competition amongst dentists in some places and the practitioners are forced to offer their services for as low a fee as possible. They would certainly sell an extracted tooth if it can fetch them twice their fee for extracting it! Makes very good business sense. Never mind the image of the profession.

This situation is because of the mushrooming of dental colleges, huge increase in the number of seats and decrease in the number of patients per college.  In most of the colleges the students actually practice on plastic teeth and they get to work on a natural tooth only after they start their ‘clinicals’. That is, attending to patients. The number of patients in the colleges being less, they hardly get the required training. After this they spend a considerable amount to set up a clinic and struggle to survive. Still, the seats in the colleges are somehow getting filled. Is it the eagerness of the parents to get the prefix ‘Dr.’ in front of their children’s names or lack of other alternatives? I don’t know. The situation is disturbing and I feel bad about these students as well as my profession.

Are we going to see better days? Let us wait and watch. But from what I gather, we are not likely to get to sing “Happy days are here again!” in the near future.

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