Those running clinics across the border have been  out of work since March 2020   

Younten Tshedup

Bhutanese dental surgeons operating private clinics in Jaigaon, India, have been without work for more than a year.

Following the closure of border gates in March last year, dentists have not been able to go to their clinics across the border. The dental practitioners are those who couldn’t make through the civil service examination.

A group of 12 dentists last year submitted a petition to the prime minister, requesting the government to allow private dental practice in the country. The group included dental surgeons who were either practising in Jaigaon, India and some in Bhutan under the government’s short-term contracts.

On the condition of anonymity, a dentist said they were told that they cannot open small private clinics in the country. “If we wanted to operate one, it had to be a multi-disciplinary dental clinic, which would not be possible at this stage.” 

He said opportunities in the government were limited for dental surgeons. “The government cannot recruit all dental graduates as hospitals across the country are already saturated.”   

The petition submitted to the prime minister stated that individuals invest a lot to become dental surgeons. “We did not study dental hoping to get employed under the Royal Civil Service Commission but to earn a livelihood in the country using our credentials.”

It stated that it was more depressing when earning livelihood in one’s own country  was being denied by the contentious implementation of an unwritten rule that bans private practices. “If we cannot put in use the education and skills obtained within the country of residence, it is beyond imagination of earning a livelihood in other countries.” 

A dentist said that all dental services that are available in the country were ‘basic’ in nature. “When we say dental services, it then becomes cosmetic in nature which is why it becomes expensive. This the government cannot provide for free to all which is why people have to go outside to get the treatment.”

He said that more than 90 percent of his clients at his clinic in Jaigaon were Bhutanese. “Besides the hassle to get dental appointments in Bhutan, the service is just basic which is why people have to come to clinics like mine in Jaigaon. Why can’t we have such clinics in our own country?”

The dentist said that a single dentist at the national referral hospital has to cater to around 120 patients a day. “Ideally, each patient should receive around 40 minutes to an hour of consultation with a dental surgeon. When this doesn’t happen, the quality of treatment is affected.”

He said that antibiotic usage among Bhutanese dental patients is one of the highest in the country. “This is because when a doctor has to look at so many patients it becomes overwhelming.  The doctors then prescribe antibiotics and ask the patients to come next time.”

The dentist said that if the patient doesn’t see the doctor, they get another course of antibiotics. “This is not healthy. In the long run, these patients could develop antibiotic resistance.” 

He said that if a patient is in pain, he or she has to be treated on the spot. “If there are private clinics in the country, patient load at JDWNRH could come down and the quality of services would improve. What we are suggesting is to complement the dental care system in the country.”

The dental surgeon said that through his experience working in Jaigaon, it was the quality of treatment that most patients were after. “Money was secondary as long as the treatment was of good quality.”

He said that by allowing private clinics to operate in the country, those who can afford the services would be automatically taken up by them. “Besides reducing the patient load in government hospitals, it would also allow the services there to improve. At the end of the day, everyone would be receiving good quality treatment.”

It was learnt that some dentists had applied for trade license to operate private clinics since 2011. They said the application was still pending due to denial of clearance from the health ministry.