Gaping holes in school dental service
In the early fifties, after the Colombo Plan exhibition, Sri Lanka was gifted with a school dental service by the New Zealand government. In 1954 Dr. Bruce Rice came to Sri Lanka with some educators to implement the programme.
The land and the building “Vessenden” in the heart of Maharagama were handed over by Sir John Kotelawala to start the school. The name board read “Dental Nurses Training School”.
The school was opened in 1955 by the pioneer principal Dr. Bruce Rice and the chief guest was the Prime Minister of New Zealand Walter Nash. The first batch of students was taken in, in 1955 and some were sent to New Zealand to be trained as tutors. Thereafter, every year a batch of 25 students was taken in. They came from all over – Matara, Kandy, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Matale, Velvettiturai, Weeraketiya, Vavuniya, Moneragala etc. There were Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers.
After two years of training they were sent to school dental clinics throughout the island such as at Royal, Ananda, Nalanda, Vembadi Girls’ School, Jaffna, Debarawewa M.V, Dapulusen V. Dondra Sinhala M.V, Ampara, Kalpitiya, Kalmunai, Akkarapattu etc. The dental nurses were trained to do fillings of all deciduous teeth and permanent teeth filling of front permanent teeth (Silicate), extraction of deciduous teeth, cleaning and scaling and health education for children up to 13 years. Formerly the students were examined and treated every six months. But in 1987 the rules were changed by the Department to accommodate all school children. This step was taken by the Department with the agreement of the World Health Organization. Dental nurses were trained abroad for this purpose. Thereafter the children were examined and treated . For the benefit of the children who did not have dental clinics in their schools, mobile clinics were conducted by the school dental nurses. There were about 270 school dental clinics throughout the island.
After the pioneer principal left, Dr. D. Jong De Zilva, MBBS, BDS, was appointed as the principal. When he retired in the early ’60s, dental surgeons got the chance to head the institution. The school dental service became an avenue for promotion for them. The principal of the Dental School got the chance to be appointed as the Director for the Dental Services. They also got promotions as regional dental surgeons. Earlier this part was covered by the M.O.H. of the area.
Then with the change of the designation as “School Dental Therapist” the dental nurses got a new uniform. This was worn by para-medicos. Doctors did not object to this uniform but the dental surgeons objected. Just because they didn’t like the dental therapists uniform they wanted to “scrap” the service. For the past seven years the training of dental therapists has been stopped. The training school is empty except for the principal and two tutors.
Some months ago I was passing Maharagama and saw the name board of the school covered with a cloth. Then after sometime I saw the cloth removed and a brand new name on it. A tear came to my eye because I was trained in 1957 and I know the value of the service I did for my country. We have taken this matter to the relevant authorities but nobody appears to be bothered.
I have one suggestion. Pack up the name board and send back the intruders to their dwellings in Peradeniya. As this spot and the buildings are worth millions, call for tenders. There is a massive lecture hall, a surgery with all the dental equipment to facilitate 25 senior students and 25 junior students, a hostel which can accommodate 50 students and buildings for the workers.