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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dentist groups urge government to rescind new directive

A dentist works on a patient’s teeth at a licensed clinic in Phnom Penh last year.
A dentist works on a patient’s teeth at a licensed clinic in Phnom Penh last year. Charlotte Pert

Dentist groups urge government to rescind new directive

Leaders of dental organisations in Cambodia this week made a plea for the Ministry of Health to reconsider a controversial decision to allow dental nurses to open their own oral health clinics. But officials were tight-lipped as to whether the ministry will rethink the recently established prakas yesterday.

The ministry prakas, dated October 16 and signed by Health Minister Mam Bunheng, allows dental nurses to set up their own clinics with the caveat that they only offer emergency and basic services, according to a copy obtained this week.

However, experts say the ministry hasn’t yet gotten a handle on the widespread proliferation of unqualified traditional dentists, and the decision to also allow less-trained nurses to open clinics could cause the country’s dentistry field to “collapse”.

During a more than two-hour meeting on Monday, representatives from the Cambodian Dental Association, the Cambodia Dental Council and the Cambodian Dental Students’ Association, among others, met with ministry officials.

“We don’t trust that the Ministry of Health can control their scope of work,” said Dr Solita Yam, president of the Cambodian Dental Association, who was at the meeting. “So far, the Ministry of Health can’t control traditional dentists yet, hence [it’s] creating another problem.”

Cheang Pengleang, a sixth-year dentistry student at the International University and president of the Cambodian Dental Students’ Association, who was also present, maintained dentistry students’ concerns weren’t out of fear of “competition” from dental nurses.

“In Cambodia, no one will be able to guarantee that [the nurses] will not exceed the scope of [permissible] treatment,” he said. “At the end, those who will suffer are the people.”

A user claiming to be a ministry spokesperson claimed in an anonymous Facebook post that the Cambodia Dental Council was involved in developing the prakas, but council president Sokhom Rithivuth denied this.

Ministry officials who attended the meeting – including secretary of state Thea Kruy and Dr Hak Sithan, head of the oral health office at the department of preventive medicine – declined to comment.

Dr Callum Durward, head of the dentistry department at Puthisastra University, said training for dental nurses began in the 1990s to meet needs. But with a recent oversupply, some have already opened practices and are performing tasks they weren’t trained to do. “This was never intended,” he added.

Additional reporting by Kong Meta

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