Dental Manpower

5.1 Developing Competency and Proficiency of Dental Professionals


The need for qualified dental practitioners to address the prevailing dental needs of the nation led to the establishment of a dental school in the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore in 1926. The initial response was disappointing with no applicants. Between 1927 and 1929, seven enrolled for the four-year course, only to leave during or after the first year.


Undaunted, the institution reinstated the school with the appointment of the first Professor of Dental Surgery and Head of Dental School, Professor Edgar K. Tratman. A five-year course based on the British syllabus was introduced. The first graduate received the Licentiate in Dental Surgery (LDS) in 1933.


Despite the Japanese Occupation during World War II (1941 - 1945), there was development in dental education. The Japanese administration mandated continued training for medical and dental students. Paradoxically, while supporting efforts for trained professionals, the Japanese authorities also issued licences to all who wished to practise dentistry. This led to a tremendous increase in the number of unqualified dentists during this period. Even with the take over by the British Military Administration at the end of World War II, these unqualified dentists were allowed to continue plying their trade.


With peace in the country, the King Edward VII College reopened in 1946 and candidates who had earlier been awarded diplomas under Japanese rule were made to re-sit their professional examinations. They were duly awarded the LDS on successful completion of the examinations. The General Medical Council of the United Kingdom conferred official recognition on the LDS (Singapore) in 1946. With the formation of the University of Malaya (Singapore) in 1949, the King Edward VII College was renamed the Faculty of Medicine and the dental school remained a department within the Faculty. The degree of Bachelor in Dental Surgery (BDS) replaced the LDS.


A legislation passed in 1961 resulted in the University of Malaya (Singapore) being designated the University of Singapore on 1 January 1962. This also led to the founding of the University of Malaya (Kuala Lumpur) in the same year. However, it was only in 1972 that the Faculty of Dentistry was established in University of Malaya, with its first intake of 32 students. Development of the Faculty led to the establishment of postgraduate training in 1994, with the Master in Community Dentistry, expanding later into fields of clinical dentistry. A year later in 1995, the undergraduate programme was revised and the period of study extended from four years to five years. The course gained recognition from the General Dental Council of Great Britain in 1998.


The second dental school was established in University Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1997 and subsequently a third in Universiti Sains Malaysia at Kubang Kerian in 1998. This helped to address the projected target of 1 dentist for every 4,000 citizens by 2020.  As of 2017, the dentist to population ratio was 1:3,728. There are now 13 universities offering basic dental degrees in Malaysia, of which 6 are government institutions and 7 are private .


Chronological Development of Basic Dental Degree in Malaysia



Name of Institution of Higher Education



University of Malaya (UM)


Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)


Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)


Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)


International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM)


Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM)


AIMST University







Penang International Dental College (PIDC)

MAHSA University

International Medical University (IMU)

Melaka-Manipal Medical College (MMMC)

SEGi University

Lincoln University College (LUC)


5.2. Education of Dental Auxiliaries


Dental Nurses


With the shortage of qualified dental professionals to meet the needs of 50% of the population, which were under 18 years of age with 'appalling' dental conditions, the dental nurses' scheme was introduced in the civil service in 1948. This was based on a scheme in New Zealand that had by then utilised dental nurses for 25 years. In the Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia, the school dental service was also launched in the same year.

In 1949, the Dental Training School was established within the premises of the Penang General Hospital with its first Director, Mr. Charles F. Mummery. The initial group of students were selected from among State Registered Nurses and trained in dental operatory procedures. 1950 saw the graduation of the first batch of 14 dental nurses on completion of a one year course.

Since then, the school has expanded to include the training of dental technologists in 1951 and dental surgery assistants in 1981. It has its own complex, officially opened in 1966, designated the Children's Dental Treatment Centre and Dental Training School Malaysia. Since 2003 the institution has been officially known as the Dental Training College of Malaysia. The school, being a pioneer in the training of dental nurses in the region, also became an avenue for training of dental nurses for other countries, such as Singapore, Brunei, Burma, Hong Kong and Nigeria.

Dental nurses complement the dental surgeons. They provided simple and basic clinical treatment to children, limited at first to those aged 12 years and below. In 1977, the scope was extended to include children up to 17 years of age. Dental nurses also undertake integrated preventive and dental health education activities. As a member of the dental team, the dental nurse remains to this day under the supervision of the dental officer.

Dental nurses are trained and employed in the public sector only and standards and qualifications are established by the government. Within the public sector, practice guidelines, expected productivity, quality improvement initiatives, continuing education, work ethics and disciplinary procedures are well established. Existing policies indicate that the government will continue to train dental nurses according to the needs of the public sector. In fact, demand for dental nurses has far exceeded supply due to expansion of the public oral healthcare of the MOH. From the first five nurses in 1949, there are now 2,836 dental nurses in service in the MOH as at 31 December 2017.


Dental Technologists

Dental technologists began as dental mechanics who were trained at the King Edward VII College, Singapore. A course for dental mechanics was started at the Dental Training School in Penang in 1951. The nomenclature dental mechanics evolved to dental technicians in 1959 and to dental technologists in 1996 to reflect the change in role of this category. In the MOH, dental technologists are expected to not only function in the dental laboratory but to also engage in biomedical engineering aspects in the management of dental equipment. Unlike the dental nurses, dental technologists may be employed in the private sector. There are now 1,855 dental technologists of which, 923 are employed in the MOH, 119 are employed in other government facilities and 813 are employed in the private sector, as at 31 December 2016.


Dental Surgery Assistants

In 1951, the Assistant Nurse (Dental) Scheme was introduced with the aim of providing clinical support to dental surgeons. This group of auxiliaries had to undergo a two-year in-service course. Subsequently, in 1959 they were re-designated Dental Surgery Assistants (DSA), and remain so to this day. However, the formal DSA training programme at the Dental Training School only began in 1982. In 1993, the training incorporated the distance-learning concept. There are now 4,177 dental surgery assistants, of which 3,783 are in the MOH, 341 in other government facilities and 53 are in the private sector as at 31 December 2016.

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