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MONTEGO BAY – The Ministry of Health is on a drive to improve oral health services across the island especially in underserved rural communities.

Among the plans are the development of a relevant and modern legal framework to govern and regulate oral health care, and the creation of partnerships to enhance service delivery, said portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson.

The Minister, who was delivering the main address at the opening of an international diabetes conference on Thursday (March 21) in Ocho Rios, informed that a number of measures have already been put in place, including the appointment of a new Dental Council, Dental Auxiliary Body, and Dental Appeals Tribunal.

This in addition to the establishment of minimum standards of care for oral health, and the deepening of the integration of oral health care into all services offered at the health centres. “This will allow us to focus on vulnerable communities and at-risk groups,” the Minister stated.

He lauded the staging of the three-day conference and the focus on ‘Diabetes and Oral Health’.

According to the Health Minister, oral health plays a critical role in overall health care and in reducing the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes.

“The prevalence of diabetes mellitus in Jamaica is now estimated as 7.9 per cent among persons 15 to 74 years old. In addition, 2.8 per cent of the population has predestined diabetes. The condition is a major cause of morbidity in Jamaica and was ranked among the leading cause of death among women, and the third leading cause of death for men in 2009,” he informed.

He noted that diabetes is also associated with heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, amputations, eye disease, renal disease, and peripheral neuropathy.

Dr. Ferguson expressed the hope that discussions over the three days of the conference, will help in further understanding the linkages between oral health and diabetes and lead to evidence-based policies and programmes that can assist in the reduction of NCDs.

He said it is time that the health practitioners take a more holistic approach to health care to reduce the prevalence of NCDs, which he said, are responsible for 70 per cent of deaths in Jamaica, and ensure early detection and control of conditions.

“Every health worker, including doctors and dental surgeons will have to view the patient in a holistic way and in congruence with other specialisations,” the Minister argued.

The conference is being staged by the University Diabetes Outreach Project (UDOP), which is a joint initiative of the University of the West Indies (UWI), the University of Technology (UTech), and the Association of Public Dental Surgeons.

By Garfield L. Angus, JIS Reporter