A dentist's drill is probably not a favourite sounds for most of us, but think how much worse off we would be without dentists. The Czech Chamber of Dentists is raising the alarm, that the Czech Republic could soon be threatened with just such a situation. Unless the state changes its attitude, they say, the country will soon face a critical shortage of dentists.
At the moment there are just over 6,000 dentists in the Czech Republic, including specialists, which means each one of them has around 1,700 patients. But the number of dentists is steadily dropping because every year roughly twice as many dentists retire than there are fresh graduates. If the trend continues, in 15 year's time every dentist might have to see some 2,700 patients. The solution seems simple - increase the number of students. The dean of Prague's First Faculty of Medicine, Tomas Zima, says it all comes down to money.
"If the state realises the need, we can increase the number of students but the state needs to give us enough money to finance the expensive course."
To train dentists, universities say they would need some 200,000 crowns a year per student. Currently they are receiving about a half of that amount. The President of the Czech Chamber of Dentists, Jiri Pekarek, suggests that the number of dentistry students should increase sharply to make up for the existing shortage and in the following years, it could be kept on the same level as the number of dentists retiring every year. The Chamber has also put forward another suggestion to the government.
"We are proposing a nationwide prevention programme. Since 1989 the Czech Republic has not had any systematic prevention scheme in dental care. Because once there are fewer cavities and less gum disease, we will not need as many dentists, and also our dentists will have much more time for their patients and to explain to them how to take care of their teeth, which is part of the prevention programme."
The Czech Chamber of Dentists is worried about one other thing. If you browse through any medical magazine, you'll come across ads like these: "Dentists required to work in the UK", "English speaking dentists - earn 2.5 million crowns per year in England", etc. Dentist Rudolf Spacek is currently working in the English county of Hampshire.
"There is a huge shortage of dentists in the United Kingdom and the British government is very concerned about it and tries to invite as many dentists from abroad as they can. So that was a good opportunity and that's the reason why I came over here. As for dentistry, I think the British National Health System is more clear, more honest and it's really fine to work in these conditions. Unfortunately, the Czech national health care system is kind of obscure, not very transparent, and I think both the patients and doctors are forced to use not very nice, illegal procedures, sometimes. So I wasn't happy there, and that's maybe the biggest difference."
But perhaps the main motivation for Czech dentists to leave for other EU countries is the possibility of higher earnings. Rudolf Spacek again.
"I'm an associate, I'm not working for anybody, so my monthly income only depends on how many patients I see or how much work I do. I can't tell you easily in percentage what the difference is but it is very, very different."
Jiri Pekarek of the Czech Chamber of Dentists says that the number of Czech dentists leaving for western European countries is not critical but is expected to increase.
"So far we have registered only just under 50 applications but we cannot rule out that the number will rise once the generation with diplomas automatically recognised abroad graduates. It is also related to the conditions in our country. At the moment it is extremely difficult to open a surgery and get a loan for it. On top of it health insurance companies are paying late and little. So if this legal situation does not change, it is understandable that our dentists will seek work elsewhere where the conditions are better."
Earlier this week, the President of the Czech Chamber of Dentists, Jiri Pekarek, spoke with Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek about the chamber's concerns. The prime minister has promised to appoint a special committee in the next few weeks which should get its teeth into the issue.