by Brittany Cannon
East Tennessee State University: College of Public Health
My first week in Roatan, Honduras has been was quite an eye opening and educational experience.
The first day there I met with a dentist to discuss a dental hygiene educational program and I discovered there was basically "no such thing" as preventative measures regarding dental health here. As with many other countries, dental health is of no concern to the people. If you have to choose between eating rice for a couple of days or having your teeth cleaned, you would most likely pick eating.
A significant dental health issue among the children here is maintenance of of their primary molars. I didn't know the significance of the primary molar until our meeting with the local dentist. The primary molar basically sets the stage for a young person’s entire mouth. A child usually gets his/her first molars six years of age. Well, because preventative dental health measures have not been taught many of the children's teeth have severe decay including their primary molars. When the decay becomes very severe, the solution is to pull the tooth. Although this is a temporary fix for the child in terms of alleviating the pain, it poses huge problems for the child’s permanent teeth development and future dental health. The primary molar is actually an adult tooth and if it gets pulled it will cause the child’s other teeth to become very crowded and grow in incorrectly.
Our job is to gather data on the local school children to quantify the severity of decay in each child’s mouth and report whether the primary molar had been extracted. This data will hopefully aid the dentist in receiving a grant to help address this problem.
Before we collected the data in each classroom we did a dental hygiene educational class. We taught the children why it is important to brush their teeth and why good dental hygiene was important to their overall health. After teaching them the basics of dental health we gave them all tooth brushes. This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done because when they received their tooth brush they acted like we had handed them a magical toy. They were so excited to show us how they were going to brush their teeth. I really felt this was definitely worth while!
Over the four day period of going into schools we educated 385 children on how to brush their teeth and taught them why they should. They were very eager to learn and it was obvious that they had not received even basic training on this important aspect of health. A lot of the children asked for tooth brushes for their parents! Hopefully we made an impact and my biggest hope is that with the knowledge we provided them they will continue to brush and one day it will become a cultural norm here.