Dentistry and the Movement

Marianne Montiel

(ASAP-Katipunan presents a series of articles from our members hailing from different degree programs. The third article is written by Marianne, a Dentistry student who saw activism as a way to fight for an accessible, affordable, quality oral health care.)

Deciding on taking up dentistry for my undergraduate degree stemmed largely from being inspired by my own dentist and his wife’s work on my brother who was born with a cleft lip and palate. From the age of five, I have been a constant witness to the coming together of dentists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals in order to ensure that function and aesthetics were properly restored. After sixteen years, I am happy to say that my brother’s last operation related to his condition was successfully conducted just last month. His story is a story of success, one that others could only hope to give for their children born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both.

With a statistic of one in every 600 newborns, it has been suggested that the incidence of cleft lip and palate is high in the Philippines. While there are non-government agencies working to make the necessary operations accessible for people born with this condition, there are still those who are unable to receive treatment. If such is the case for treatment for a condition that affects only certain people, what more for the other oral health problems that, albeit preventable, can affect everyone? Already about 87% of Filipinos have tooth decay or dental caries, according to the Department of Health.

Despite these alarming figures, oral health is still largely viewed as a privilege. It is a matter that is also generally viewed as being entirely separate from a person’s general health. Most Filipinos have a poorer treatment-seeking attitude when it comes to oral health related issues as opposed to other ailments that would require the consultation of a physician. While the effects of the loss of teeth or having bad oral health may not be equated to losing limbs or losing the function of your lungs, kidneys, or liver, it is still important to maintain good oral health in order to ensure that, at the very least, you are not limited in any way in providing yourself with proper nutrition.

Dental practices are also heavily situated in urban areas that only make up a fraction of the largely rural Philippines. Statistics from the Department of Health show that 77% of Filipinos have never even seen a dentist. This narrative of inaccessibility to majority of Filipinos rings true for other health services. Acknowledgement of this fact and the desire to tip the scales in favor of the majority is what brings health professionals together to call for health for all.

…oral health is still largely viewed as a privilege.

It is through this imbalance that I realized that calling for health for all is tantamount to calling for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education system, tantamount to calling out the agents of deforestation and environmental degradation, tantamount to calling for respect for indigenous communities and their ancestral lands, and tantamount to calling out against the inhumane living conditions bred by neoliberal policies and the capitalist structure of society. It is basically calling for an end to all the social injustices that affect all the other sectors of society. Health for all is a cry for more humanity. We cannot achieve health for all as long as social ills continue to plague our nation.

Photo grabbed from Facebook.

How will you be able to provide the necessary healthcare services for underserved Filipinos under an education system that limits the amount of opportunities to produce capable healthcare professionals due to exorbitant school fees? How will you be able to provide universal healthcare when the environment in which the people reside in is dying? How will you provide health for all if indigenous communities are displaced or are living in war-torn areas? How will you provide health for all if the average worker has no job security and their wages and work hours do not allow for recreational activities?

Health for all is a cry for more humanity.

As future health practitioners we are taught to aspire to help people gain their sense of well-being. A person’s well-being can only be truly achieved through a harmony of most, if not all, aspects of his or her life, the same way over-all health cannot be achieved without good oral health. I am a dentistry student and I am an activist because I believe that every Filipino has the right to basic social services.

In order to truly fulfill our mandate as future health professionals, it is imperative that we are one with the people in the fight for genuine social change. We cannot isolate ourselves in our ivory towers, in our private high-end practices at the heart of the business district; we must step down or step out of these bubbles and cure our people, our nation, from the grass-roots level.

I am a dentistry student and I am an activist because I believe that every Filipino has the right to basic social services.

We must heal the system to serve the people.

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