Wanted: More Jamaican Dentists

At the University of Technology’s (UTech) College of Oral Health Sciences in Kingston, I leave Dr. Glassman and Dr. Boksman to enjoy their Jamaican lunch, as they did look hungry (see my previous blog post). It is time to see what the students are up to.

Dr. Irving McKenzie: We need at least 80 more dentists in the public sector. (My photo)
Dr. Irving McKenzie: We need at least 80 more dentists in the public sector. (My photo)

While chatting with the Canadians, we are joined by Dr. Irving McKenzie, who is Chief Dental Officer at the Ministry of Health and also Dean of the College. I ask him how many Jamaicans are studying dentistry. Not many – or, at least, not yet enough, was the answer. He is, however, optimistic; things are not going to stay that way.

The College of Oral Health Sciences at UTech is the only educational institution in Jamaica offering a degree program in dentistry, and the only independent dental college in the English-speaking Caribbean.The curriculum is based on the Canadian system. Courses began in September, 2010 and the first batch of graduates will emerge in November, 2015. Currently, the College has four cohorts of trainee dental surgeons (totaling 120); 100 studying for the Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene; 50 students on the Dental Laboratory Technology B.Sc. course; and just ten studying for a Dental Assistant’s Diploma. The latter is rather interesting; Dr. McKenzie explains that ninety per cent of dental assistants have no formal training. They learn on the job, from the dentists they work with. UTech will also be introducing a course for Dental Engineers next year. Those are the technical people who maintain the important equipment that dentists depend on.

There is a desperate need for young trained dentists in Jamaica – especially in the public health system. Dr. McKenzie told me there is a “great shortage”  – the Government needs at least eighty dentists. As for other Jamaican tertiary institutions, Dr. McKenzie tells me that Northern Caribbean University has a course for dental hygienists and the University of the West Indies has a dental surgery course as part of its medical program. This is hardly enough to fill the need. The 175 dentists now working in the public health system are getting old – their average age is fifty plus. “New blood” is badly needed.

A dental student at work at the College of Oral Health Sciences. (My photo)
A dental student at work at the College of Oral Health Sciences. (My photo)

I walk across to the training room, which is roughly circular. Each cubicle radiates from the center – an economical use of space. Each cubicle was busy with a patient, and at least one student hard at work on him or her. On just one day, the students treated 290 patients free of charge. At an average cost of J$8,000 per patient, if they had to pay, this is well over J$2 million worth of treatment.

Students working in a College training cubicle. (My photo)
Students working in a College training cubicle. (My photo)

I meet 34-year-old Kelvin Bird, President of the Jamaica Association of Dental Surgery Students. He is in his fourth year and will be one of the Class of 2015, the College’s very first graduates. He has a strong interest in endodontics – Dr. Glassman’s area of specialization – and says he would like to spend some time working in the public sector after graduation. “It’s an aging population of dentists there,” he notes, but adds that, of course, private practice is “much more lucrative.” 

What sparked Kelvin’s interest in dentistry, I ask him? A newspaper article he read a few years back finally swayed him. “I realized the poor state of dentistry in Jamaica,” he says, “and I was moved by compassion.”  

Kelvin Bird is a fourth year student of dental surgery with a lovely smile! (My photo)
Kelvin Bird is a fourth year student of dental surgery from Kingston. (My photo)

And what of the future of dentistry in Jamaica? In Kelvin’s view, prospects are improving. Although Jamaica has been “the fifteenth worst in the world” in terms of its dentist to patient ratio, he believes things are looking up, with more young dentists in training. He also believes the students have a strong sense of community and service to others. “We do a lot of outreach,” he says, especially in rural areas where access to a dentist is almost out of the question.

Dr. Glassman has inspired Kelvin. “He came for the first time when I was in my second year,” he emphasized.“Since then, I have attended all his lectures – I have not missed any.” He is on the cutting edge of endodontics: “Everything he brings is fresh.” He calls Dr. Glassman a “true pioneer…He doesn’t take no for an answer, either.” Kelvin also seems imbued with this “the sky’s the limit” attitude.

I love people who make things happen. And I look forward to next year’s graduation ceremony for young dentists.

Congratulations to Dr. Glassman, Dr. McKenzie and all the students who are moving Jamaica’s health system into the exciting future.

Student at work. (My photo)
Student at work. (My photo)

19 thoughts on “Wanted: More Jamaican Dentists

  1. I always wonder why isn’t the DDS programme at UWI sponsored by the government, since Jamaica is in such a dire need for dentists. I was interested in dentistry at some point but seeing a US$28,000 price tag quickly discouraged me and so the MB,BS (medicine) programme where I could get 80% govt sponsorship by having good 6th form grades took over as my sole health profession interest.

    It’s also pretty frightening how isolated the practice of medicine and dentistry are from each other, considering many medical illnesses first present clinical signs in the mouth. That’s not unique to Jamaica however. It is a strange worldwide trend. I think more practitioners realize the stupidity of separating the 2 professions however, so maybe more will be done in the near future to bridge the gap between medicine and dentistry.


    1. Yes – that is so true. Dentistry always seems something quite separate from everything else, out there on its own. As someone who has suffered all my life from really bad teeth (and I still suffer) I know how it can affect your general health. I understand it can cause heart problems, etc… I really think more should be done to bring it into the mainstream of healthcare. You notice whenever foreign medical missions come over, they almost always do dental work? There’s a need out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello…i am a dental hygienist in the usa, with a bachelors degree. Been practicing about 15yrs. My husband lives in jamaica the last 4 years and i would like to relocate to jamaica, to b with my husband as well as be able to work as a dental hygienist there. Is there a need for a paid dental hygienist in jamaica??
    Thank you


  3. I have over twenty years of experience, practicing general dentistry in North Carolina, and Texas. I worked for US military as well as in prison settings. I am in love with Jamaica and would love to share my dentistry there for the rest of my life. Bob Quintano


  4. Hello,

    I’m an experienced Orthodontist with more than 12 yrs of overseas clinical work experience in Maldives n Bahrain. Kindly contact me if there is any suitable vacancy in ur dental school n hospital. My email- hghorpade@gmail.com. Thanks.

    Dr Harshad Ghorpade, BDS, MDS (ORTHODONTICS ), MRSH (UK), iBraces (USA)


  5. There is a young lady that attends ewarton high school that is in a video posted to facebook who is need of some serious dental work. She is about fifteen years old. Please if there is anyway she can be helped it would be so comforting to my heart.


    1. Dear Susan: I don’t know if anyone here can help. From time to time there are free medical and dental clinics that visit. I know dental work is SO expensive. I hope someone can respond. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to contact the dental school?


  6. I am a BDS dentist from India and would like to offer my self Dr.Dipankar Hazra as a candidate.
    I have completed my Bachelor of Dental Surgery with one year internship from Mithila Minority Dental College ,India ,in year 2006. with distinction in the majors. Presently I am a consultant dentist at Kisha Health Care Hospital, Kabul, Afghanistan. I have more that 8 years experience in General Dentistry and also completed Fellowship in Fixed Dental Orthodontics and Certificate in Dental Implant.
    My goals are to make myself more useful by providing upgraded dental treatment to Socio-economically backward patients.
    Moreover, it will let me serve people in a better way by providing world class dental treatment.
    Low and middle income population cannot even think to afford the costly treatment. One of the reasons for this is the lack of doctors with advanced training. Thus, I have decided to provide the latest and best treatment affordable to all. I will be honored if I am endowed with the opportunity to serve people who are suffering from dental diseases and problems anywhere in the world.
    I will impart my knowledge about the latest developments in dentistry to my co-leagues so that we can serve our patients in a better way through team work and lead to overall growth of everyone associated with my work. This in turn will lead to enhancement of my social prestige. I will also be able to fulfil my family’s aspirations and make my people proud.
    Along with fulfilling my personal aspirations I shall always remain committed to the most vital mission of you and make you proud for letting me avail the opportunity to excel in the field of Dentistry.
    Thanking You,
    Yours Faithfully,
    Kaisha Health Care Hospital,
    Skye : dr.hazra73
    Mail id: dr.hazra73@gmail.com


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