In developing countries, oral health services are limited to regional or central hospitals in urban areas. Even where dental assistance can be found, little priority is given to preventative or restorative treatments; many African, Asian and Latin American countries solely offer pain relief or emergency services.
In Africa, there is a ratio of one dentist per 150,000 people – in developed countries it’s one per 2,000. Sadly though, preventive dentistry is even more crucial to these remote areas of our world, because there are far fewer dentists to treat oral diseases. Dental pain is of course unpleasant for everyone but in the UK the inconvenience of booking and then attending an appointment is the main concern. However, for someone without access to dentistry, their suffering constitutes chronic pain, occupational and social limitations and can even be life threatening.
Most concerning is children’s oral health. Tooth decay is a widespread childhood disease, from which 60-90% of schoolchildren are suffering around the world. A study across two decades from 1990 to 2010 in London, with close to 3 million subjects found that 20% of children had dental decay in their deciduous teeth. In The Gambia, 86% of 5 year-olds have decay in four or five teeth and half of those clean their teeth with chewing sticks: the other half simply don’t clean their teeth at all. In Cambodia 93% of 6 year-olds average 9 teeth with cavities and 60% of mothers reported their children had suffered dental pain in the last six months.
Dental decay is a lifestyle-related disease that is increasing in the far reaches of the world where traditional diets are being replaced with cheaper, imported food products containing high levels of sucrose and carbohydrates. Also, junk food manufacturers vigorously campaign their products towards vulnerable groups, such as children. In the UK we have vastly improved levels of sugar consumption when compared to a country like Mexico, but it is still double the WHO recommendation of 18kg per person, per year.
Along with the spread of unhealthy eating habits, developing countries are contending with other exacerbating factors like lack of access to:
· Fluoride – An average UK worker need only work for an hour to accrue enough fluoride toothpaste for a year, the average Kenyan would have to work for an entire week.
· Dental clinicians – There are about a million practising dentists unevenly distributed around the world. They may be found in urban areas but there is a critical shortage in poor, remote areas.
· Government healthcare funding – In some countries, government policies and the sheer number of people suffering with caries makes treatment virtually impossible. In India, the health budget is meagre for oral health and there is no fluoride policy. Moreover, preventive products like toothbrushes and toothpaste are classed as cosmetics and subject to hefty tax levies.
It’s frustrating to think that there are simple and cost-effective solutions for lifestyle change, which are not available to so many. A scheme that was introduced in Jamaica between 1987 and 1995 proved how simple a solution could be. The National Salt Foundation Program encouraged the country’s only salt provider to produce and sell only fluoridated salt. This led to an 87% decrease in schoolchildren’s dental caries, at a cost of just 6 cents per person, annually.
Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, is a mantra that Darren Weiss, dentist and founder of the Humble Smile Foundation holds close to his heart.
“The focus on prevention became a practice philosophy for me,” said Weiss. “I was actively lecturing dentists about the value of prevention, but I was troubled with one thought – if I truly wanted to apply my preventive expertise, why wasn’t I based where it is of the greatest value?”
In light of this, Weiss collaborated with local dental professionals to design an oral health outreach programme, called Planet Smile. The focus was to promote preventive dentistry in parts of the world where the need is greatest. When he visited the Humble Brush stand at the 2015 International Dental Show and learned of their sustainable, biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes, he found a like-minded organisation with an inspirational, environmental and social vision. By working together, The Humble Smile Foundation was born. Now, for every Humble Brush sold, a physical toothbrush or equivalent oral care is given to someone in need overseas.
The Humble Brush Foundation recently joined forces with Assyrians Without Borders, a group to which they have donated toothbrushes assisting the charity’s aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey. With more programmes in the pipeline for Iraq and Syria, the work of the Humble Smile Foundation and Humble Brush continues to reach out to global communities suffering unimaginable hardship.
Contact Humble Brush today, to discover how you can effect change in the far-flung reaches of the world, without even leaving your surgery.
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 World Health Organization – Oral Health Services. http://www.who.int/oral_health/action/services/en/ (Accessed 2/9/2015).
 World Health Organization – Oral Health Fact sheet no318, April 2012. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs318/en/ (Accessed 2/9/2015)
 Journal of Dental Research. The Global Burden of Oral Conditions 1990-2010: A Systematic Analysis, June 2013. W. Marcenes, N.J. Kassebaum, E. Bernabé, A. Flaxman, M. Naghavi, A. Lopez and C.J.L. Murray J DENT RES 2013 92: 592 originally published online 29 May 2013. http://www.kcl.ac.uk/dentistry/research/divisions/population/Bernabe-JDR.pdf (Accessed 2/9/2015)
 Centre for Global Development. Case 18 Preventing Dental Careis in Jamaicahttp://www.cgdev.org/doc/millions/MS_case_18.pdf