WITH nine in 10 Filipinos suffering tooth decay but only one in 10 of them can afford to see a dentist once a year, Senator Ralph Recto said Saturday budget for oral health care should be restored in the national budget.

"The national budget will remain a toothless instrument in promoting dental health if it does not specifically set aside funds for this purpose," he added.

Recto said oral health care would not get the attention it rightfully deserved for as long as oral health spending will remain as a hidden account in the national budget.

He stressed that it is time that dental health would surface in the pages of the General Appropriations bill, which is expected to be submitted to Congress in six weeks.

Recto said cutting the national government's travel budget this year by just five percent could free P700 million for the purchase of dental equipment.

Citing a government survey, the senator said one in seven individuals is absent from work at least once a month while one in 10 fail to go to school or work at least twice a year due to aching tooth or gums.

The survey also showed that nine in 10 urban schoolchildren have decayed tooth, and yet, Recto said there is only one dentist for every 70,000 Department of Education (DepEd) students and teachers.

Recto said the lack of funds for dental care also hit women hardest as survey revealed that seven in 10 women have missing teeth while it is five in 10 for men.

Women trump men on the number of missing teeth, with an average eight teeth for females while four for males.

With that, Recto said more public dentists must be hired, especially in public schools.

"At present, there are only 300 dentists in DepEd's employ to attend to the needs a combined student-teacher population of 21.5 million," he said.

Recto stressed compounding the lack of manpower is the scant resources dedicated to oral health care.

"The National Center for Disease Prevention Control was allocated P23.6 million to push for the Oral Fit Child program in 2013. Last year, it was given P35 million to buy for dental sealants and filling materials for pre-school kids," he said.

Based on his estimates, the senator said the DepEd spent a measly P9 million for dental supplies out of its P37.5 million expenses for supplies in 2013, which is equivalent to an annual budget of less than P2 per student a year.

Recto said P9-million oral health care fund is "half the amount the Department of Budget and Management paid to its janitors in 2013 and twice the amount the Department of National Defense spent for the food and drugs of the dogs in its K-9 units in the same year."

Likewise, the senator said there are 18 government dentists per one million Filipinos nationally but in contrast, there are 3,556 elected public officials per one million families.

If the government hires 81 governors, 143 city mayors, 1,491 town mayors, 11,932 councilors, every 1,000 days through costly elections, Recto said the government can then hire more dentists.

Recto said if government can spend for less important things, it can afford higher dental budget.

"If we have 20 million students in DepEd and half of these students will be given a toothbrush each worth P15, P150 million is just equivalent to the Department of Agriculture’s communication expenses a year," the senator said.

"Or if you would buy a toothpaste worth P100 million, that is just equivalent to the amount the Department of Agrarian Reform spent for gasoline in 2013," he added. (Sunnex)