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Mon 8 Oct 2007 04:22 PM

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Caries in the community

Dr. Tariq Khoory, director of Dental Centre at DoHMS, talks about his vision of a cavity-free generation.

Dr Tariq Khoory, director of the Dental Centre at Dubai's Department of Health & Medical Services (DoHMS) has been instrumental in the UAE landing the FDI annual congress. He tells MED about his vision of a cavity-free generation.

Congratulations on winning the bid for the 2007 FDI Annual World Congress. What can delegates expect to see?

Dentists come here to make profit. Very few come to consider the regional issues in dentistry.

The FDI is the biggest global organisation for dentists and its annual congress has never been held in the Middle East. So we have set ourselves the target of ensuring the educational programme is one of the strongest there has been. The academic programme runs concurrently in about eight lecture halls, and each hall concentrates on a specialty. It's a congress both for the general practitioner and for the specialist. You can attend lectures in your field, or you can divide your time between the halls.

To have a reputation in the Middle East you have to be able to convince people to travel. Dentists won't attend unless the educational programme is impressive. Now, we're expecting to receive more than 20,000 dentists.

What impact do you hope the show will have on regional dentistry?

The FDI in Dubai is a historic point. It is a benchmark and it will attract other congresses - it shows that we can perform successfully, with a strong scientific programme and the biggest exhibition to date.

For regional dentists, we hope to highlight the message of prevention. We want to create a generation that will be cavity free, good oral health. And for that, we need education for the public and for dental professionals, and cooperation between the government and the clinics, and local universities. The congress is a good time to bring them together to talk about ways to achieve this.

How will you do that?

Dentists will be exposed to a variety of educational sources, lectures and workshops, and they will be exposed to preventive information. Their awareness and education will be affected and they will hopefully start to put more prevention in their practices. After the congress, I'm sure they will add to their patients and practice.

You have always worked in the public sector. Have you ever been tempted by private practice?

My ambition has always been for the public and preventive care. The private sector was not as attractive for me as my vision was for the community. I have worked at DoHMS since 1979 and since that time we have been active in community dentistry, doing many of the corrective measures for the public in primary care clinics.

What are the main challenges you've faced?

I have two goals that I have yet to achieve. Challenge number one - to fluoridate the drinking water. This is something that I have fought very hard for. Had I been able to succeed, we could have reduced the number of cavities in the UAE.

My second biggest challenge is that, while the population is growing, the number and capacity of government dental facilities is not. This, of course, has a lot to do with how many resources the government is willing to put aside for the facilities. So patients are facing delays for appointments. Patients will often become frustrated with the long delays or gaps between appointments, and then discontinue treatment.
How are you tackling the low level of public awareness?

For paediatric patients, we attend vaccination centres in Dubai and educate mothers on how to take care of their children's teeth, how to clean them. We correspond vaccination appointments with dental checkups for children. This is one way of increasing awareness and, at the same time, picking up those children who are starting to have cavities.

Secondly, we also run education campaigns through the media - through the newspapers and television programmes. Unfortunately, our media independently is not doing its job. It fails on education. The media is our strongest tool but it is not used effectively - everyone has time for the media, particularly the audio-visual medium, but they don't have education as their goal.

So overall, no - patients are not as aware as we want them to be. Patients typically visit our clinics whenever they feel pain or discomfort - they don't come for regular check-ups. They only attend when they feel there is a problem and this is normally too late.

Do you feel the private sector does enough to promote prevention?

Dentists here are from many different parts of the world, but they come here to make profit. Very few come to consider the regional issues in dentistry, and to help serve the community. It is a matter of attitude.

The latest Department of Health figures show that dentists make up only 3% of the healthcare workforce in Dubai. Is a skills gap is contributing to the issue?

It's not the number of dentists we have; it is the quality. We don't have a shortage of dentists in Dubai, but it is harder to find dentists that value their patients above all else. Prevention should come first, the profit should come later.

Dubai is very attractive to dentists - there is a lot of work. Percentage-wise, the number of dental professionals overall in the Emirate may not seem significant, but we don't have a shortage, especially in the private sector. But we are short on quality.

How would you like to see the industry develop in future years?

I'll take Sweden as an example. Sweden leads the world on preventive measures. Their caries rate is the lowest worldwide. They have strong preventive measures; they are strong on school-based measures - children are taken care of from pre-school up to graduation from high-school.

It's the model to imitate, and I would like to see Dubai take the same path.

I want dentists to see preventive care as a rewarding action. Think of your patients beyond the specific problem you are treating - talk to them about education, about maintaining oral health.

Give as much time to education as you do to treatment. Show interest in more than the problem, and your patients will return more regularly, and your practice will benefit.

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