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Dentistry in Sri Lanka was recognized as an independent profession on 15th May 1915 when the first qualified dentist was registered in the dentists register maintained by the Ceylon Medical Council under the Dentists Registration Ordinance. They were all British qualified and remained in the private sector treating the British troops, professionals and the Ceylonese population who could afford to pay their professional fees.

First Dental Clinic in the Public Sector

It was in 1925, the Colonial government at that time recognizing the dental health needs of the general public, The first Dental clinic was established in the Colombo Hospital. Dr. W.Balendra was appointed as the Dental Surgeon. But since he had medical qualifications as well, he was designated as the Medical Officer in charge of the dental clinic (Later Institute)  which is a title remained until very recently. The dental clinics of Galle and Kandy were established in 1937 with the appointment of Dr A.E.Daviot and Dr Sam Gunawardena respectively. They were had medical qualifications and dental qualifications obtained from the United Kingdom.

Training of Dentists

Since there were no training programs for dentists till 1933, Dr W Balendra trained three Apothecaries to do extractions and scaling. The Colombo clinic continued for nearly 15 years with their assistance. They were registered  as dentists by the Ceylon Medical Council. The Ceylon Dental Hospital and School commenced in 1933 which started a dental training course under the auspices of the Ceylon Medical College. This course commenced with 6 medical graduates who were to follow a further two years training with a view to grant a license to practice Dental Surgery. Some of them joined the government service and were appointed to dental clinics established in Jaffna, Batticaloa,and  Kurunegala.

Formation of Government Dental Surgeons Association.(GDSA)

By 1951 there were approximately 30 Dental Officers who had graduated from local Dental School and others from U.K. employed by the Department of Health..They were faced with many problems including anomalies in salaries, disparities in service, issue of medical certificates, railway warrants and many others.

On the 4th of October 1951 a meeting was called at the Dental Institute for the formation of  a trade union. At this meeting Mr Dickson Silva was elected as the first President and Mr V Cumaraswamy as the secretary. Since then up to now the trade union has been continuously demanding improvements to conditions of employment by negotiation and at times by trade union action to bring the services to the present day levels.

The Sri Lanka Dental Association was formed in 1932 which provides leadership in professional matters. Until the GDSA was formed all negotiations with the government on all matters of Dental Surgeons employed in the Department of Health was done by them.

Establishment of the Dental Nurses Training School

The Dental Nurses Training School was established in 1951 with the assistance of the government of New Zealand in order to train Dental Nurses who were to treat the Children’s needs in dental care. The Medical Ordinance was amended to enable Dental Nurses (later designated as therapists) to attend on children who were under the age of twelve years. This clause reads as follows” The performance by a qualified Dental nurse in the employment of the government of Ceylon of minor dental work in any public dental service under the supervision of a Dental or Medical Practitioner.414 school dental clinics are managed by 407 dental therapists who perform a yeoman service to the children of this country by treating 503305 of them every year.

Expansion of Dental services in the clinics maintained by the Ministry of Health

Starting with the training of five Dental Surgeons a year in 1944, the Faculty of Dental Science now has a programs to train 75 Dental Surgeons a year. They are being mobilized to every part of the country in General Hospitals, Base Hospitals, District Hospitals, School Dental Clinics and outreach programs conducted by the Ministry.

The overall management of the Dental Health Services of the Country comes under the purview of the Deputy Director General (Dental Services) who is assisted by Regional Dental Surgeons, Consultants, Dental Surgeons, and the Dental Therapists of the department. They cater to the Oral health care needs of nearly two million patients a year. The present workforce consists of 1350 Dental Surgeons of the Department and 55 specialists in the fields of Oral and Maxillo Facial Surgery, Orthodontics, Restorative Dentistry, and Community Dentistry, In addition there are Dental Surgeons who are specialized in Medical Administration to serve in senior Administrative positions as high as Additional Secretary (Public Health) in the Ministry of Health.