Excess dental grads counterproductive
Published on: Sunday, March 28, 2021
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Credit: carousell.com.my
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being and quality of life.” The Malaysian Dental Association (MDA) is committed to helping to make high quality yet affordable dentistry accessible to the public.

In 2013, the government agreed on the implementation of a moratorium on the setting up of new dental faculties and new undergraduate dental degree programmes for local higher education institutions, and capping the intake of students to 800 per year for a period of five years. 

The moratorium was initially intended to control the exponential increase in the number of dental graduates in Malaysia at that time. The moratorium ended on Feb 28, 2018, and was reviewed by the Health and Education ministries in 2019. 

The MDA, after its annual general meeting in 2019, concluded that the moratorium needed to be maintained and communicated this opinion to the authorities concerned. Since then, there has been no further update by the Education Ministry on the status of the moratorium.

It has now been brought to the attention of the MDA that the Education Ministry is looking into the possibility of lifting the moratorium. 

MDA is saddened by this development, especially since there was no proper engagement with the relevant stakeholders. 

Even though it was not stated officially, MDA was made to understand that the moratorium would not be lifted. Since 2005, the number of dental schools in Malaysia had increased from three to 13. 

Including those studying overseas, we are now getting between 1,000 and 1,200 dental graduates a year. 

This has overwhelmed the ability of the public service to absorb them for compulsory service and also for permanent posts. 

This exponential growth has also overwhelmed the capacity of the private sector in absorbing them.

MDA feels it would be counterproductive to the nation if overproduction of dental graduates is allowed to continue and therefore strongly hopes the moratorium on new dental schools and intake of students that expired on Feb 28, 2018, would be maintained. Lifting the moratorium now would have devastating effects on the nation’s overall dental services in the long run, be it to the public or the dental practitioners themselves.

With a staggering average of more than 1,000 new registrants and 400 dental practitioners entering the private sector in recent years, MDA feels that further uncontrolled influx of dental graduates will continue to “choke” the workforce. 

The Public Service Department is already facing difficulty providing permanent posts for dental officers who have completed their three-year contract under the Health Ministry’s Oral Health Programme due to limited posts and facilities.

Coupled with the concentration of private dental clinics in urban areas, lifting the moratorium would lead to unhealthy competition and even sustainability of services. As it is, it would be prudent to have regular updates on the locations of private dental clinics to assist private dental practitioners who are planning to set up new clinics.

Although the number of new registrants from foreign institutions has been declining in the past three years, it is important to understand that this moratorium only applies to our local setting and we have no control over those who graduate from foreign countries and would be coming back to add to the numbers.

MDA believes that maintaining the moratorium would also strengthen the academic staff’s capability in producing high quality dental graduates for the benefit of the public. 

Until the above issues have effectively been addressed, MDA believes maintaining the moratorium is the way to go for now.

A multi-stakeholders’ engagement will be necessary prior to lifting this moratorium.

Dr Leong Kei Joe, 

President Malaysian 

Dental Association

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