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National Smile Month 2014

Posted in: Blog, by kayleighb2a, on 20th May 2014 | 0 comments

 – Mark Topley, CEO 

This week marks the official start of National Smile Month – 31 days of campaigning by the British Dental Health Foundation, to promote oral health across the country.

We are delighted to be officially partnering with the BDHF this year, launching our first annual National Bridge2Aid Day – Smile in Pink for Bridge2Aid on 6th June.

This will be a fantastically fun event for dental practices up and down the country to take part in, and it’s very simple – just wear pink and host a collection box on the day to help raise money for our work in East Africa.  In addition, practices will be learning about and promoting to patients, the challenges of the lack of access to simple basic emergency dentistry for most of the world.

The sad thing is that oral health education and indeed even emergency dentistry are low on the list of priorities when it comes to health care in developing countries.  This is further compounded by most countries choosing to use the little money they do have for oral health on traditional approaches of employing a very small number of fully trained dentists along with complex equipment and expensive materials. This makes even simple treatment inaccessible to the vast majority of the population.

In response to this, WHO launched in 2004 the Basic Package of Oral Care.  This was intended to be a community based approach to oral health which would replace the traditional western model and focus on affordable, community based delivery of basic treatment and education.

The global health community is becoming increasingly aware that oral health education is extremely important.  As well as dental caries being the number one disease of the 261 identified conditions, globally there are more and more links emerging between poor oral health and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Unless we root out the causes of poor oral health and the subsequent prevalence of pain which results (which is what we get mostly involved in) then the problem will always persist.  This is why upstream interventions to teach people about oral health and get them cutting out things like sugary soft drinks and brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste are so important.

However, if we focus solely on oral health education then this ignores the millions of people that are already in pain.  In my generation, and probably the one to come, we will not be able to see a dentally qualified person available and located within the vicinity of most people living in the developing world.  This means that for the next 100 years or so these people face a life of pain without the hope of treatment – unless we do something different.  This is why our approach to training local health workers in basic emergency dental skills is so important.

Of course it is not an either/or situation.  What we want to do at Bridge2Aid is not only to treat people through the free training clinics that we offer on our training sites, and train local health workers, but we also want to educate.  Recently we ran an interesting pilot where free toothpaste and toothbrushes were distributed during our training programmes to around 1000 patients. Our aim, and that of the sponsor, was that in being relieved of their pain and then given an education message as well as the tools and understanding of how to use them, people could prevent future problems by establishing good brushing habits with affordable fluoride toothpaste. The combination of treatment with education is key – distributing free product without a context is in my opinion not effective. Sadly that partnership is not continuing, but we are hopeful of finding partners in the future to help us build a rounded upstream and downstream strategy that tackles the pain people are currently in, provides a sustainable access to ongoing pain relief, and also educates people on how to prevent dental problems in the future.

We are very proud this week to be officially partnering with the BDHF – a fantastic organisation who work hard all year round to promote awareness of good oral health and its importance in people’s lives.  Smile in Pink will hopefully be a fantastic fun day for everybody who takes part, I will certainly be donning my pink t-shirt in Tanzania on 6th June and helping to raise awareness of 2 fantastic causes pursuing the same aims.

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