Hygienist Anne Powders Declares: “Smile Uganda!”

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Hygienist Anne Powders aims to improve the oral health of the world's impoverished children

This is my planned project through Smile Revolution, by which I hope to aid the children of Uganda and perhaps those in other developing countries that so desperately need our help to improve their dental health. In my proposal I look at developing and implementing innovative oral health education content to reach the world’s children with our important oral health messages.

The World Health Organization has declared tooth decay a pandemic and three- quarters of the worlds’ children suffer from excruciating pain that. These impoverished children are caught up in a cycle of poor living conditions, high sugar diets, weak oral hygiene traditions and poor accessibility to dental services.

With only one dentist per158,000 head of population, the rural communities of Uganda are severely disadvantaged. They sometimes have to resort to traditional healers and as a result suffer unnecessary pain with unhygienic extractions and resultant infection.

Simply by introducing simple handwashing and toothbrushing regimes to young children in school, research has shown that we can make that big difference to their dental health. By introducing them to the importance of brushing and supporting them through their early years, we provide the foundation for improved dental health, enhanced general health and overall wellbeing for life.

I have volunteered with Dentaid on several projects in the past, travelling to Uganda, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Morocco, so I have become familiar with the on-the-ground complexities of running a dental clinic or teaching children in hot, over-crowded classrooms. But in every situation, we learn to adapt and make the best of the local conditions.

Whether we take that trek up steep mountain paths to reach small remote communities in Nepal, or wipe sweat from our eyes during the steaming hot afternoon clinic in a camp in Sri Lanka, we are welcomed with flowers, bright smiles, a stick of sugar cane, and a delicious bowl of dhal bhat, spicy lentils and rice. The work and the people’s response are always immensely rewarding.

There are so many examples of the different rural communities we have worked in that we could share, and so many stories to tell you. We could explore the situation of the impoverished tea pickers on a plantation in Sri Lanka who suffer from desperately poor oral health, or talk about the plight of the marginalised fishing villages that line the golden beaches where the poverty is even more marked.

We could describe the squalid refuges for the street children of Pokhara where the smell from their glue addiction lingers on the clothing of little ones as young as five, or recount the sight of the mouths of toddlers in the sugar plantations of Uganda with rampant ‘baby bottle’ tooth decay where every tooth is little more than a brown stub. The syrupy drinks used to pacify them is the same sweet tooth rotting toxin that causes them to cry in pain at night.

Education is key and knowledge is life changing. This project is about reaching out to the poor and marginalised communities and has become even more relevant during the coronavirus pandemic, where access to dental care has been even further reduced.

At this stage in my project, I am looking to find the most effective ways to teach oral health to primary care workers in Uganda from my base here in the UK. Working online seems the best option, particularly as travel is difficult, but there are logistical challenges to be overcome, especially with meagre internet connections and the lack of computers and phones in the Ugandan community.

I am so grateful to Philips for their ongoing mentorship and support through Smile Revolution as I push my project forward. It is a worthwhile cause and we are grateful for every ounce of aid we receive.