Dental Care in the Philippines

Dental care in the Philippines is crucial as statistics show that at least 80 percent of Filipinos suffer from dental problems. The current dental system has not been effective in reducing the number of people suffering from tooth decay or cavities. Today, the country is shifting towards adopting prevention methods. Here are three examples of how the Philippines is preventing tooth decay.

Education Programs

Statistics show that 95 percent of 12-year-olds suffer from tooth decay or cavities. Poor oral hygiene is the main reason for children with oral health problems. Building healthy habits is the key to preventing oral disease. To promote prevention measures, the Philippines is integrating oral health as part of the education curriculum in public schools.

The country’s Department of Education released the program, Fit for School as a way to address tooth decay in school-aged children. Every day, students go out to the school courtyard to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. Fit for School not only promotes healthy habits, but it also provides the students with access to clean water and appropriate washing facilities. Today, the Fit for School Approach has become the Essential Health Care Program, which targets about 2 million children in 40 provinces in the Philippines.

Tax on Sugar

Sugar is one of the many causes of oral health issues in the Philippines. There is an abundance of sweet treats and sugary drinks throughout the country. Coca-Cola alone is predicted to spend $5.5 to $12 billion in marketing in Asian and African countries. Obesity and diabetes are diseases have links to high sugar diets. Now, tooth decay is also associated with sugar.

To make matters worse, foods high in fat and sugar are more accessible than a toothbrush. Filipinos living in poverty-stricken regions are the most vulnerable to make poor dietary choices and suffer from oral health issues. Several countries, like Mexico, have seen a drop in sugar consumption after implementing a tax on sugary drinks.

In 2018, the Philippines implemented a sugar tax. The tax raises the cost of sugary drinks by 13 percent. As a result, the Philippines expects to lower soda sales as well as a drop in the number of people suffering from tooth decay. The money collected from the sugar tax will be used to fund health care initiatives and infrastructure.

International Impact

From the United States to Australia, foreigners are flocking to the Philippines for dental care. The affordability of treatments has made dental care in the Philippines one of the most popular dental tourism destinations in the world. Dental tourism refers to the practice of traveling to another country to undergo dental treatment such as implants or teeth whitening.

Due to its popularity, dental tourism is fostering economic growth for the Philippines. However, it has not improved access to oral care for Filipinos. A 2016 report found that Filipinos rarely visit the dentist office and over 7 percent had never been. The report also found that 98 percent of Filipinos experience tooth decay.

Some argue that dental tourism has made dental care even more limited to Filipinos. The price of visiting the dentist is low for foreigners but very costly for Filipinos. Additionally, dentist offices are prone to schedule prioritize foreign patients rather than local ones. However, foreign travelers are also bringing free dental care to the Philippines. For instance, access to quality dental care is limited in Cebu and other underserved regions in the Philippines.

Aid for Dental Care

The University of the Pacific (UOP) is one of many organizations working to increase the accessibility of dental care. Each summer, UOP sends a group of dental students to Canjula Elementary School in Cebu to provide the students with free dental care. Students unable to afford yearly trips to the dentist for cleanings, fillings or extractions now have access to get the care they need. In addition to treatment, UOP also provides oral health information sessions to promote the building of good hygiene habits.

As a whole, dental care in the Philippines has been improving with time. While it is a common critique that treatment is valued over prevention, there have been efforts aiming towards children. Additionally, tourism and higher institutions are working to increase access to dental care in the Phillippines.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr