It is amidst many challenges particularly in the unprecedented times of a pandemic that the Sri Lanka Dental Association (SLDA) celebrates its 89th birthday tomorrow, December 6. The simple celebration will be the launch of its brand-new website, as usually the SLDA’s flagship event including its scientific sessions is held in June. Before dealing with [...]


SLDA marks 89 years amidst pandemic challenges


It is amidst many challenges particularly in the unprecedented times of a pandemic that the Sri Lanka Dental Association (SLDA) celebrates its 89th birthday tomorrow, December 6.

The simple celebration will be the launch of its brand-new website, as usually the SLDA’s flagship event including its scientific sessions is held in June.

Before dealing with how the SLDA armed its members against the new coronavirus to best serve their patients, its President Prof. Manil Fonseka says it plays a three-prong role.

Founder-Members of the CDA: Dr. E. Abeyesundara, Dr. V. Sinnetamby, Dr. C.A.R. Goonewardene. Dr. A.E. Daviot, Dr. M. Brito-Mutunayagam, Dr. W. Balendra, Dr. J.S.R. Goonewardene, Dr. A.A. Gomes, Dr. S.W. Garne, Dr. H.E. Swan, Dr. H.S. Christofflesz and Dr. S.L. Cramer.

With a membership of around 1,900, the SLDA’s role includes educating the people on the prevention of oral diseases; professional development of its members; and being the ‘link’ not only among the other major stakeholders such as the Health Ministry, especially in the formulation of policy but also international organizations. It is a member of the World Dental Federation, headquartered in Switzerland, with over 200 members from more than 130 countries.

Sri Lanka has around 3,500 dental surgeons, a majority in the state hospitals; 300-400 working exclusively in the private sector; 70-80 in the university system; and 50-60 in the security forces.

SLDA PresidentProf. Manil Fonseka

Prof. Fonseka talks of the huge challenges dental surgeons face due to COVID-19. The patients have to be examined and attended to with their face masks off. If the patients have been infected by the virus, the mouth and the throat would be hotspots for it.

This is while many dental procedures also generate aerosols, a high-risk in the spread of COVID-19. So, a crucial task of the SLDA had been coordinating closely with the ministry to bring in guidelines to ensure the safety of both dental surgeons and patients.

Looking at the patients’ dilemma, he points out that they were fearful of seeking the services of dental surgeons thinking that they would catch COVID-19, which led to a neglect of their oral health. Other dangers came in the form of eating many sweets while being restricted to their homes during lockdown and also not being scrupulous about oral hygiene as they were not going out.

“We predict a rise in dental issues after a lapse of time,” he says.

Harking back to the humble beginnings of the SLDA, its Secretary Dr. Chandima Weerasinghe quotes Dr. Hilary W.M. Cooray on those early years…….how 12 British-qualified practising dentists in then Ceylon, got-together to form the Ceylon Dental Association (CDA) in 1932. Of these 12 dentists, 10 were also qualified to practise medicine and surgery.

With the Dentists Registration Ordinance No. 3 of 1915 coming into being, the dental profession had been accepted legally and the Ceylon Medical Council had opened the Dentists’ Register on 15th May 1915.

Documenting the history of dentistry, Dr. Cooray had in 2007 focused on how the practice of dentistry evolved going beyond 1932, to the time of the arrival of the British with their troops in 1795. The doctors looking after the medical needs of the troops were practising dentistry in the form of teeth extraction.

With an influx of other categories such as traders, agriculturists, industrialists and administrators to Ceylon, the demand had risen for better dental treatment – not just pulling out of teeth but fillings, vulcanite dentures, porcelain teeth, anaesthesia, X-rays and radiography.

To this clamour had been added the voice of the local elite whose changing lifestyles including the widespread consumption of foods containing sugar had triggered more dental disorders and disease.

The dental profession had been established by 1925 along with the Government Dental Clinic and Ceylon seeing a “brain gain” as dentists not only from Britain but also other European countries arrived here.

By 1932, there had been around 25 registered dental surgeons practising in government hospitals and the private sector. Then had arisen the dire need to form a professional organization to sort out problems and issues.

The foreword to the CDA’s Constitution states: “At the first meeting (held at the Dental Institute) of qualified dental surgeons on 6th December 1932 which was called to consider the formation of a dental association, the CDA was definitely founded and it was decided that this association be conduced as nearly as possible on the lines of the British Dental Association.”

The founding members included Sydney William Garne (Founder President) and Arthur Annesley Gomes (Founder Secretary).

A far-reaching change initiated by the CDA in 1933 was the amending of the Dentist Registration Ordinance to ensure that the title ‘Dental Surgeon’ as against ‘Dentist’ could be used only by those having a qualification from a university.

Many of the dental surgeons were also publishing their research in the British Dental Journal. They included ‘Abnormality of tooth eruption’; ‘Necrosis of mandible due to typhoid fever’; ‘Impacted wisdom tooth causing reflex irritation of the lungs’; and ‘Effect of betel chewing on the dental and oral tissues and its possible relationship to buccal carcinoma’ by W. Balendra and ‘Betel chewing and cancer’ by R.L. Spittel.

Even at that time, politicians and their cronies had attempted to interfere in professional organisations. The CDA records that some ‘registered’ dental practitioners who had no academic qualification but had influence with the then Health Minister had attempted to amend the Dental Ordinance to enable them to take on the title of dental surgeon.

To pre-empt this, the CDA had sent a deputation to the Ceylon Medical Council and Governor Sir Edward Reginald Stubbs warning that such interference would not receive the approval of the British Dental Association or the British Medical Association and the proposal had been dropped.

Meanwhile, another battle had ensued when in 1949, the Health Minister had been under pressure by the Chinese Ambassador to place the Chinese and other dental mechanics on the Dental Register provided they pass an examination. The CDA had protested strongly and sent off a memorandum stymieing such action.

These Chinese migrants from Shandong and Huber provinces had arrived in Ceylon in the 1940s and had done well as dental mechanics in the manufacture of dentures. By 2007, an estimated 100 such dental mechanics had been working from shops along Olcott Mawatha, Main Street and 2nd Cross Street in Colombo.

Now 89 years after it saw the light of day, moving from strength to strength, the CDA has evolved into the SLDA bringing about numerous benefits to all the people including those living in the remotest corners of the country.


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