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An insider view into dental outreach programmes

We often hear about charities and organisations travelling across the world to improve the lives of those in less fortunate situations. There is no doubt that these trips have an enormous impact on the areas they visit, but what do they entail exactly? How are they arranged and what do the volunteers actually go through each day?

LiveSmart is an oral health toothbrushing programme that is run by the Dental Wellness Trust. The program teaches children in the Khayelitsha area of Cape Town the importance of brushing their teeth, regular hand washing and a healthy diet. Dr Obaid Khalid recently travelled there to evaluate the programme and assess the oral health of the toothbrush mamas and teachers involved.

Dr Khalid documented his experience for us and provided a detailed insight into the five-day research project.


Day 1:

“I had arranged to meet with Mavis, a ‘Mama’ who leads the toothbrushing programme for Dental Wellness Trust (DWT) in the townships. ‘Mamas’ are the healthcare workers that work for DWT.

As I arrived in the townships, I was on my own. I spent a while driving around and looking for Mavis. As I drove past each shelter, I received stares from every single person. They saw an unfamiliar face, one that was not the same complexion as 99% of the residents there. They kept staring, making me more and more nervous.

I eventually found Mavis, who was very welcoming and we clicked right from the start. She took me to her school, known as an Educare, where I was greeted by all her students. They were ecstatic to see a new face and sang all the songs taught to them by the mamas in English. These songs helped them learn about a healthy diet and how to brush their teeth.

Mavis then took me to visit the other mamas to whom I explained the research project that I wished to carry out. The research project aims to investigate the oral health of the township school teachers/mamas and its impact on their quality of life. It involved an oral health assessment done by myself and my colleague, Dr Yousuf Bashir, and a questionnaire carried out in a structured interview format by Mavis and 2 other mamas. They were all excited to help as it could assist the planning of future interventions by DWT.

We then visited around 30 schools in Mfuleni and created a timetable to plan visits to the teachers for the rest of the week. This proved to be difficult due to the fact that most teachers were only free during a short time period within the day (lunch breaks and nap time). We managed to plan the rest of the trip and I also had the chance to see how the toothbrushing programme was implemented in these schools. Needless to say, it was well-structured, organised and entertaining for all.

We then set off home realising that it will be a long, tiresome week…”

Day 2:

“As I left for the townships, I picked up Yousuf directly from the airport. He did not have much rest and forced himself to work as soon as he arrived in Cape Town. Poor guy!

We started the assessments and although the questionnaires and intraoral assessments were slow at first, we gradually sped up, making up for lost time. It was a slow first day but we managed to complete all planned assessments. As we visited each Educare, we also distributed toothpaste and toothbrushes to the children on behalf of Linda Greenwall from DWT.”

Day 3 and Day 4:

“We started early on Wednesday/Thursday at 9am. This was an extremely hectic day, managing to assess over 25 teachers each day. By the end of these few days, we were exhausted and treated ourselves and the mamas to a KFC! Yousuf and I decided that we wanted to do more to help the Educares and the mamas. There was an apparent shortage of toothbrushes and hand washing soap in many of the Educares. We contacted Linda and organised the delivery of more soap and toothbrushes. We also wanted to help Mavis personally, so we provided 30 mattresses for her students. She was ecstatic and ever so grateful!”

Day 5:

“This was our final day in the townships. By the time we finished visiting all the Educares, we managed to assess almost 80 patients. Although our original aim was 200, we realised that was extremely ambitious. We decided that the ground research should be continued for the next set of students/dentists that are arriving in August.

Overall, it was a very successful and eye-opening trip. The teachers and mamas were very co-operative, despite some being nervous. We not only realised that a lot needs to be done to improve the oral health of inhabitants, but also their general health and quality of life. The townships are often overlooked by those visiting Cape Town. Although the apartheid has been over for several years, there still seems to be a massive economic and health inequality within Cape Town.

We would like to thank Single Use Dental Instruments for providing us with all the necessary examination equipment to undertake our research.”

For more information on the work carried out by the Dental Wellness Trust, please visit Dental Wellness Trust. 

If you would like to find out more about the charities and organisations we work with, you can view these on our Charities page.

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