"If we are going to implement the WHO's Global Child Dental Health Taskforce programme in India to eradicate tooth caries problem among children in the next 20 years, we need a good dental leadership," said Professor Raman Bedi, director of the global taskforce.
"We need good leadership at both the national and state level," Bedi, who was chief dental officer in Britain from October 2002 to October 2005, told IANS.
Indian-born Bedi was co-chair of the first meeting of the national taskforce held here earlier this week.
"All the taskforce members, including the Dental Council of India, shared the view that the Indian government should appoint a chief dental officer just like there is a director general of health service. Majority of countries have a chief dental officer," said Bedi.
Stating that the national taskforce will be making a recommendation for appointment of a chief dental officer in the health ministry, which has very little focus on dental health problem, Bedi underlined the need to promote awareness on the importance of oral health.
"Not many realise that oral health is linked closely with overall healthļ particularly heart disease. It can cause pain during pregnancy and for nursing mothers. India needs to plan now for a healthy population and not just a rich population," said Bedi.
India is one of the 10 countries participating in the first phase of the Global Child Dental Health Taskforce, launched in Britain last year in September. The other countries are the US, Mexico, Brazil, Britain, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, China, the Philippines and Australia.
After India, Bedi will be holding taskforce meetings in other countries to draw up a strategy plan for eradication of tooth decay problem among children.
High intake of sugary food and drinks together with lack of proper brushing with fluoride toothpaste is believed to be the reason why children have tooth cavities, which with repeated fillings get weakened and can chip and fall by the time the person is 50.
The global campaign aims to promote proper use of fluoride toothpaste together with awareness campaign on proper dietary habits "to ensure that children born in 2026 do not have any tooth caries."
As a first step, the global taskforce in partnership with Colgate-Palmolive (India) is setting up a dental healthcare centre of excellence in the capital, to be headed by Hari Prakash - currently director of Ghaziabad-based ITS Centre for Dental Studies and Research.
Among others, Bedi is keen to get support of governments to ensure that "no advertisements for sugary foods and drinks targeting children are allowed. This includes sweetened 'paan masala'. For this we need the involvement of the government, the dental profession, manufacturers of toothpaste, parents and children."
Recounting his experience as dental chief of Britain's National Health Scheme (NHS), Bedi said he was able to articulate the need to beef up not only the funding but also get on board a large pool of trained dentists, including 1,000 from India.
The enhanced funding saw the government allocation for NHS dentistry go up to 2 billion pounds with additional private funding raising the total to 3.5-4.0 billion pounds.
"By September 2005, we finished recruitment of 1,000 young dentists from India, raising their number to five percent of the dental workforce in the NHS. Now we have increased the provision for intake of 25 percent more dental students for training," he said.
"We had set an ambitious target for ourselves and achieved it in England and would now like India and other countries to do the same," said Bedi, who is also co-director of the WHO Collaborating Centre and Kings College London.