The founder and principal dentist of the Stephen Dental Practice in London, Neil Stephen, recently flew out to St Lucia to continue his bid to help educate some of the island’s school communities on how to avoid dental decay. Having been visiting St Lucia for nearly 20 years with his wife, a qualified dental assistant, this time they concentrated their efforts mostly in the north of the island.
Traditionally recognised for its sugar plantations, the whole of the West Indies saw a huge growth in the consumption of sugar in the 1700s. The large quantities of sugar cane harvested led to low prices, which, as a result, allowed the poorer members of society to afford sugar as part of their staple diet. This, coupled with inadequate health education, saw the standards of dental health suffer.
The most recent statistics of St Lucia suggest more than 25% of the population live below the poverty line (UNICEF, 2007), and almost half the children in the country live in households that don’t have enough food (UNICEF, 2005).
‘Many of the children we were working with were on “food programmes” and came from poorer families,’ explains Dr Stephen. ‘Some areas had also been devastated recently by terrible weather with many residents losing some, or all, of the very little they did have.
‘We were not financed, nor did we need to be, but The Sandals Foundation in St Lucia coordinated and organised our school visits and kindly provided us with transport. The Sandals Foundation in Jamaica runs a programme that facilitates the provision of dental fillings to Jamaican residents.
‘Rather than reaching the stage of decay and consequently needing treatment, my wife and I wanted to help younger people avoid decay in the first place, and that is why we visited seven schools and over 300 children, promoting prevention rather than intervention.
‘All the children tended to eat fruit or sweet foods during breakfast, if they had any, probably sweet for the morning school break, then sweet and/or fruit at lunchtime and then again when they got home. It was therefore crucial that they learnt what causes tooth decay and how they could modify their tooth-unfriendly foodstuff intake to avoid problems, while still enjoying it.’
‘We took two large tooth models to help demonstrate good oral hygiene techniques to the children,’ Dr Stephen continued. ‘The second tooth model, donated by The Dental Directory, was very useful as Mrs Stephen and I were able to observe half of the class each with their cleaning, substantially reducing the group sizes and waiting times.
‘We also took balloons and timers donated by The Dental Directory. The children absolutely loved them (maybe more than the lessons). These were very popular presents and you could feel the anticipation as we stopped the talk and turned our attention to the brushing, with a brush, a balloon, toothpaste and stickers provided as rewards for taking part.
‘We cannot even begin to describe how rewarding this experience was. We are conscious of how many charities there are, all of them needy, and we’re so grateful that The Dental Directory decided to assist us in helping over 300 children in St Lucia to understand a bit more about preventing dental decay.
‘We are currently working on a future programme and once it is easy for other UK dental professionals to get involved, it has the potential to provide one of the highlights of their careers.’
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