“Is it okay to use charcoal to brush my teeth?” “Can I use my finger if i don’t have a toothbrush?” “What does it mean if I have a spot on my tooth?”
These were some of the questions the children at the Kabalagala Community School asked in regards to oral hygiene. Ian and I visited the school in April. I am a dentist, with a focus on pediatrics and global public health, while Ian is a marketer, with experience in development and entrepreneurial projects. We thought, “what can we do in a short period of time that will both help the organization and use our skills?”
After a few conversations with Constance (i.HUG’s Ugandan Director), we decided to focus on i.HUG’s oral health program; with my knowledge of community health, and Ian’s ability to tell a story, we hope to take our experiences at Kabalagala and use them to inspire funding for a more sustainable dental program.
i.HUG already had a small dental health program with a focus on teeth brushing, enabling the children in i.HUG’s program to have better oral health than many other children in Africa. However, more needs to be done. A basic screening of all the children in the school gave us a snapshot of the situation; caries and periodontal problems. The culprit is most likely lack of brushing and diet. These factors are controllable, especially given the positive spirit and committed nature of the students and staff. We educated the children about brushing, flossing and healthy eating habits. Along with Nurse Margaraet, we distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste and conducted a school wide tooth brushing session after lunch as a refresher course. This gave the children an opportunity to obtain new toothbrushes, which are kept in the nurses office and used to brush daily in school.
We also introduced the students and teachers to flossing. We taught the student leaders how to floss, and they in turn taught the other students.
Working with the children of the Kabalagala Community School was absolutely amazing. The students were incredibly engaging as well as engaged. They took their education seriously and they were hungry for knowledge. Their warmth, inquisitive nature, and emotional expression, made it effortless to interact and build a relationship.
Some of the children were quite candid, admitting that they often couldn’t concentrate in school because of tooth pain, or a headache induced from a toothache. In the states, dental problems are the number one cause of missed school for children. i.HUG does so much to ensure an education for theses kids. They are provided with health services and meals so that they can make the most of their time in school. We enjoyed contributing to this environment and we hope to do more so that these children don’t miss out on even one lesson due to dental pain.