In the dental world, where the process of drilling, filling, and billing is the norm, Dr Srivats Bharadwaj has set up Vatsalya Centre for Oral Health to focus on preventive dentistry and allow people from all backgrounds access to dental care.
“Something that has always disturbed me was the suffering that disease caused. I would always wonder how we could avoid this suffering, especially when we were merely taught concepts of treating diseases. It would always surprise me that we would never discuss health in medical school,” says Dr Srivats Bharadwaj, Founder, CEO, and Chairman, Vatsalya Centre for Oral Health.
Founded with one assistant in 2003, Vatsalya today has expanded to include 15 doctors and five centres in Bengaluru. Focused on preventive dentistry, the team also works on different social efforts to ensure that people pay attention to oral health.
The whole idea of Vatsalya started when Srivats realised that over 98 percent of dental problems were preventable and when neglected, would impact general health and quality of life. It was then that he decided to focus on educating people, doctors, dentists, and students of dentistry to think of prevention and not just cure.
Away from the devices of torture
Speaking of an incident that diverted his attention towards prevention, Srivats says:
“I was talking to a doctor and the discussion was around the practices of hygiene a few 100 years ago. The doctor said that today we need not follow many of the age-old practices as we have advanced in medicine and technology and have developed antibiotics which can protect us. It made no sense to me. I thought when we could prevent disease, why create one and then solve it.”
Even looking back, Srivats realised that our traditional practices were focused on prevention. He soon began to closely observe life around him. “My idea of healthcare is when a doctor is paid the highest salary when the population he is serving is healthy and not diseased. Oral healthcare must shift from repair to prevention,” says Srivats.
Moving away from the drill
Srivats believes it is possible to use cheaper and less intrusive methods than are presently employed, a belief he has put into practice — a regular root canal that costs anywhere between Rs 8,000 and 10,000 will cost somewhere between Rs 4,000 and 6,000 at Vatsalya.
An appointment here begins with an hour-long consultation followed by an educational session on preventive measures, after which you are informed about treatment procedures. Most of the equipment used is of international standards.
Apart from its social initiatives that train people in preventive dentistry, Vatsalya provides end-to-end dental treatment at your doorstep. The team at Vatsalya also provides services like surgical removal of teeth, laser surgeries, complete or partial denture prosthesis, root canal therapy, and fixed and bridge crown prosthesis.
“If you use a sealant, it is a one-time use; most dental treatments are one-time and do not require the several different settings or work. It takes a maximum of two settings to get a treatment working,” says Srivats.
Carrying portable dental units that can fit into suitcases, the team focuses strongly on ensuring that everyone who needs oral care gets it. The team has also got in the VELscope, an advanced oral cancer-detecting device recognised by the WHO.
The team began several of its community efforts at Chittadhama, a centre for the mentally ill, where patients were in urgent need of oral care. They have even worked at old age homes and orphanages in the city, and a recent initiative involved treating close to 450 children from government schools in Bengaluru.
Seeing a different world
The son of an orphan, Srivats’ father played an important role in shaping his thoughts towards preventive healthcare. His father was a Hindu and was bought up in a Madrasa. Srivats grew up looking at him helping people around him.
“There were always days when my father would either feed someone or help a poor person with financial aid. He always donated everything and somewhere, that left an impact on me and I was sure that I wanted to help the society in some way,” says Srivats.
He even travelled extensively as his father was in a central government role. And prior to dentistry, his career as a state level tennis player took him to several places. He says,
During my dental schooling in Mysore, my classmate Bhartesh and I would travel to remote parts of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. We explored the places and gathered insights on oral health and various practices. When I saw a job opening in one of the universities in Nepal, I couldn’t resist applying for it. I called up the vice chancellor of the university and the next thing I know, I’ve landed in Nepal.
Learning from teaching
In addition to teaching at the university, Srivats travelled across the country and would serve underprivileged communities. Conducting community programmes and teaching refreshed his thinking and soon Srivats started speaking at various international conferences, which provided him insight into concepts he hadn’t been familiar with.
“When I was a student, I was very eager to live and work abroad. But once I actually visited countries, I realised that it's more important for me to return and start something revolutionary in India which would benefit the population, students of dentistry, and the profession at large. When I came back to Bengaluru, I started teaching at a dental school in the city and mentored students to think in a different way and not just follow what is written in the books.”
It was during this time Srivats recognised that India had young, dynamic dentists and that there was also a great demand for dentists. It was then that he decided to set up Vatsalya Centre for Oral Health, which would be a platform for dentists to express their talent and also benefit the population at large.
He realised that filling was outdated and dangerous; sealants were what was approved and used globally.
Working against the tide
“However, the system here isn’t helpful,” explains Srivats. In a profession that is used to following a regimented form of focusing on cure, Srivats was sure he wanted to focus on prevention, especially for those who can’t afford it.
Srivats informs that a cavity takes close to 8–10 years to develop. Although it takes that long for decay to visibly show outside and cause pain, the bacteria is, however, present in the mouth and can be detected earlier if the patient is proactive and visits a dentist regularly.
“The pain is actually the last stage; work would’ve begun long ago, and this can be easily prevented. But there isn’t much focus on preventive dentistry,” adds Srivats.
Currently, there is so little awareness of what preventive dentistry is that Srivats decided to bring in strong focus into the space. In fact, Srivats adds that oral hygiene can prevent most health problems and concerns.
“Little do people realise the importance of oral hygiene. In a case, bad oral hygiene has even caused multiple organ failure. A 26-year-old woman had a case of toothache and like most people she neglected her visits to the dentist. The infection soon spread to vital organs and caused multiple organ failure.”
And this isn’t just an isolated case. The number of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) cases, where patients generally contract life-threatening diseases and even die, is high. Srivats says this again is caused by lack of oral hygiene. The tube that is inserted pushes the infection from the mouth to the gums. This, in turn, causes pneumonia. Srivats adds that over half of the patients get VAP within 48 hours. If you implement oral care, this reduces the incidents from 90 percent to 46.
Working with those who need it the most
“I would like to continue my goal of prevention of dental disease and make dentistry accessible to everyone, thereby reducing the general health problems that occur due to poor oral health. I will continue to mentor young dentists and students to change the way they think and make a positive impact for all our patients in the approach and care they deliver.”
Srivats aims to make India the leading destination for oral health research, patient care, and well-being, thus making the world recognise our country as global leader in oral healthcare.