DENTAL AND ORAL HEALTH
In 2015 we first became aware of the critical need for dental care in Tanzania. Ken and Nancy Morrison travelled to Tanzania with Dr Jeff Hackett, a Canadian dentist from Victoria, BC, to discern both the need and the opportunity. To say that the need is critical is an understatement. Before we left Canada Dr. Hackett said that we would likely meet individuals who were in danger of dying from infected teeth. One young woman was being sent home with antibiotics when Jeff pointed out that the infection was travelling to her chest, and she needed immediate surgery. We learned the next year that the surgery had been successful, and her life had been saved.
Since then, we have sponsored a number of dental outreach projects. In 2016, Dr. Ken Stones, a dentist who has participated in and led his own dental outreach team for many clinics in the developing world, travelled to Tanzania on behalf of Provision Charitable Foundation (PCF). He worked with local representatives to evaluate the oral health conditions in Tanzania and prepare for the planned arrival of the dental team later in the year.
PCF then sponsored a twelve-person team, five dentists and support staff, that completed a three week trip to Tanzania and cared for a total of 618 very desperate patients. There were 80 patients still waiting when the clinic was forced to close to catch flights home.
In 2017 A team of dental hygienists lead by Kelly Antosh began teaching oral health to community health workers, nursing students and medical students in Tanzanian communities. Surprisingly, medical and dental schools do not provide training in oral health or related issues. In 2018, a Canadian hygienist, sponsored by PCF, spent several months at Ifakara, Tanzania and began the oral health education process in schools and other community settings. And in 2019, a second dental team travelled to Tanzania, led by Dr. Les Ennis. Read the 2019 Dental Report here.
In 2020, it became clear that in the context of the UN setting Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’S) and in recognizing the need to transition from traditional to transformational development projects, PCF needed to dedicate its international development aid. Traditional development requires an ongoing flow of external resources in order to continue to improve people's lives (e.g. through better health provision, education, etc.) or to preserve the environment.
Transformational development, in contrast, aims to transform unsustainable situations (in economic, social or natural resource usage terms) to sustainable (or at least more sustainable), ongoing situations. In other words, it attempts to tackle the underlying causes and collaboratively build a resilient legacy where little or no further action, and no ongoing external inputs, are necessary.
PCF had been doing both traditional (sending dental teams and support staff) and transformational (sending teams to educate about oral health and introduce systems to continue to teach these applications to successive generations) but going forward would aim more for transformational change where possible in participating communities. The traditional approach, sending dental treatment teams, is still essential as many people will continue to be very ill and in pain until the long-term benefit of the transformational approach begins to change behaviours.
This transformational approach is supported by reports from WHO that show oral diseases are among the most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and may affect people throughout their lifetime, causing pain, disfigurement and even death. In the WHO African Region, where 80% of the population have low socioeconomic status, these diseases affect the health and well-being of millions of people. Most of these oral diseases are either preventable or treatable in their early stages.
New models must be explored in order to ensure that people suffering from pain and illness caused by oral diseases and conditions are not left without treatment. Fortunately, the majority of interventions needed to address most day-to-day oral health needs are proven, affordable, and feasible in the places where ordinary people live and can be carried out by non-oral health professionals at the primary health care level.
In 2021 PCF has therefore started our first preventative program, hiring three community health workers, renaming them as dental health community workers and providing them with educational materials and other resources to begin the long-term education project. It is our hope to scale up this program as our experience confirms positive results.