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LCQ2: Dental services
     Following is a question by the Hon Holden Chow and a reply by the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, in the Legislative Council today (November 2):
     There are views pointing out that currently there is a serious shortfall in public dental services. This, coupled with a shortage of dentists, has greatly affected access to dental treatment by members of the public. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of members of the public and civil servants attending the 11 government dental clinics for treatment, as well as the number of dentists at each of such clinics, in each of the past five years;
(2) whether it has formulated medium and long-term measures to increase the number of dentists in the territory; if it has, of the details, including the timetable and whether it will relax the threshold for qualified non-locally trained dentists to practise in Hong Kong; if it has not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it will consider providing dental services to the public through District Health Centres or other community networks, as well as introducing, through the Primary Healthcare Authority to be established, dental services provided under a public-private partnership approach, so as to enhance the provision of dental services to the grassroots; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     The Government’s current dental care policy aims to raise public awareness of oral hygiene and health through publicity and education, and to encourage the public to develop good oral hygiene habits. Under the current policy, the Government mainly undertakes publicity, education and promotion of oral health, particularly with emphasis on nurturing good oral hygiene habits from an early age including providing the School Dental Care Service to children. Generally speaking, the need for dental treatment or surgery due to tooth decay and gum diseases can be greatly reduced if good oral hygiene habits are maintained.
     The Government currently provides or subsidises limited dental services, which mainly include providing treatment for the public for emergency cases and implementing measures for persons with special dental care needs, especially the elderly and families with financial difficulties or persons who have difficulty in accessing general dental services. The services include special oral care services and Healthy Teeth Collaboration for persons with intellectual disability, as well as dental care support for the elderly under the Outreach Dental Care Programme for the Elderly and the Community Care Fund Elderly Dental Assistance Programme. Elderly persons may also use health care vouchers to receive dental services in the private sector, while persons with financial difficulties may also receive subsidy to cover dental treatment expenses under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.
     My reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Holden Chow is in three aspects:
(1) At present, general dental care services are mainly provided by the private sector and non-governmental organisations. The limited dental services provided by the government are confined to emergency treatment for the public. The Department of Health (DH) allocates certain sessions each week in its 11 dental clinics to provide free emergency dental treatment (commonly known as General Public (GP) sessions) for the public. Such services cover treatment of acute dental diseases, prescription for pain relief, treatment of oral abscess and teeth extraction. The dentists will also provide professional advice with regard to the individual needs of patients.
     The numbers of attendances at the 11 DH dental clinics with GP sessions over the past five years, and the relevant establishment of dental officers are set out in the Annex.
(2) To cope with the rising demand for dental services in Hong Kong, the Government has further increased the number of University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded first-year-first-degree training places in dentistry from 80 to 90 per year in the 2022/23 to 2024/25 triennium. It is expected that there will be around 400 dental graduates becoming registered dentists in the coming five years. The Government will also provide ten UGC-funded taught postgraduate places in dentistry per year in the 2022/23 to 2024/25 triennium to ensure a stable supply of dental specialists. 
     On the admission of non-locally trained dentists, the Dental Council of Hong Kong has increased since 2015 the frequency of the Licensing Examination for non-locally trained dentists from one sitting to two sittings per year, and has improved the arrangement of certain parts of the Licensing Examination and updated its result retention policy, so as to attract more qualified non-locally trained dentists to practise in Hong Kong and contribute to the diversity of the local dentistry workforce. Separately, as set out in the 2022 Policy Address, we will explore creating new pathways for the admission of qualified non-locally trained dentists. We will press ahead with the formulation of specific details of the proposal and consult relevant stakeholders afterwards. Subject to the progress of discussion, we will strive to introduce the legislative proposal into the Legislative Council within 2023.
(3) District Health Centers (DHCs) serve as the primary healthcare hub for co-ordinating the provision of primary healthcare services for the public and collaborating with various healthcare professions.
     Services of DHCs focus on primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, which include health promotion, health risk factors assessment, disease screening, chronic disease management and community rehabilitation, etc. Under the steer of the Steering Committee on Primary Healthcare Development, DHCs are currently directing resources to tackle the most prevalent health risk factors and chronic diseases that consume the most substantial medical resources, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus and musculoskeletal disorder. DHCs also organise health promotion activities such as health education on dental and oral care, and play the role of a primary healthcare resource hub in the district, connecting different healthcare professions in the community including dentists, co-ordinating and making referrals for persons in need.
     The Government is well aware of the public’s keen demand for dental services and the Policy Address this year has therefore put forward the setting up of a working group on the development of dental care services to review the existing dental care services and advise the Government on matters including enhancement of the scope and mode of these services. The Government will continue to maintain communication with various stakeholders including the Legislative Council and listen to their views, with a view to formulating measures to promote the oral health of the public.
     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Issued at HKT 16:40
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