By Vanessa Kellenberger, Volunteer from Switzerland
Recently we received a very generous donation. A Japanese dental team travelled to Siem Reap and gave us 7000 toothbrushes for children! Why do we need so many? Because they are not available on the Tonlé Sap Lake.
A great gift
Two weeks ago a Japanese dental team arrived in Siem Reap with a donation of kids toothbrushes by Okina. Our public relation specialist from Japan, Toyomi Maehara, welcomed them with gratitude and an invitation for dinner. The dentists also work for the Cambodia Kakehashi Project that provides free dental health care in different clinics in the countryside.
Most of the people who live in the floating villages on Tonlé Sap Lake don’t know the importance of dental hygiene and oral health, and the majority never brush their teeth. Although there are some toothbrushes available on the lake for little money, unfortunately the ones with a smaller head for children aren’t widespread in Cambodia. However, that is not the major difficulty for our patients. The main reasons for not using toothbrushes are related to local culture, traditional behaviour patterns and families’ priorities. The communities living on the lake rely on fishing for their income and most live on just one dollar per person per day. Toothbrushes are not essential for survival so they are not a priority for scarce resources.
Impact of poor dental hygiene
As toothbrushes are not viewed as crucial for this population, it is up to TLC to try to educate families on the importance of dental hygiene and good oral health. We frequently see patients with black, decayed teeth. Children are most afflicted by this problem as sweets and fizzy drinks become more available in this area. This also means that children are at high risk of suffering caries in secondary teeth. Furthermore, poor dental hygiene often causes periodontal disease and bacterial infections that lead to the loss of teeth in adults and children when untreated. In addition, gum infections produce bacteria that end up in the bloodstream and are linked to several other health problems.
How we try to educate children
Apart from individual education in our clinics, our dentist Molika regularly visit schools to provide oral checks and lessons about dental care. Children love our educational picture books! At the moment, we serve six villages with about 100 school kids each. Fortunately, the donation from the Japanese dentists will allow us to distribute toothbrushes to these children every three months. This is a great improvement as previously we were able to supply toothbrushes once per year at most! To make sure that our toothbrushes will be used, we ask children to bring back their old toothbrush for Molika to check before giving them a new one when necessary. We recommend using salt and water instead of toothpaste during the education sessions, as this alternative is preferred by our patients and is always available in people’s homes so they have no reason to stop brushing their teeth.
Why do we target children?
There are several reasons why we are targetting children’s dental care and not adults. As mentioned previously while adults toothbrushes can easily found, children’s toothbrushes are not widely available in Cambodia. In addition, attempting to establish healthy behaviour in children is much easier than trying to change behaviour in adults who are often reluctant to adopt new habits. Of course, we hope that the children will also teach their parents and show them all the advantages of brushing their teeth too!
Would you like to donate kids toothbrushes? Every donation will be gratefully received! Please contact us for more details.