ABU DHABI // Hundreds of school nurses are being trained in dental care for pupils after it was found two-thirds of children have irreversible problems with their teeth.
As part of the Abu Dhabi Smiles campaign, in which more than 60,000 people have had free dental check-ups, nurses from 500 public and private schools will attend workshops to learn the five fundamentals of paediatric dental care: brushing, flossing, diet, referrals and how to inspect a child.
Few healthcare professionals, or members of the public, are well-versed in good oral care, said Dr Rasha Abushaba, the co-leader of the workshops that began yesterday.
"As of now they [students] are not going to the nurse. Even if they go, the nurse is not recognising that they have tooth decay," Dr Abushaba said.
An extensive study last summer by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) found two-thirds of 25,778 first, fifth and ninth graders who lived in the capital, Al Ain and Al Gharbia were suffering from the effects of bad dental hygiene and had irreversible problems.
When it comes to teaching a child about dental hygiene schools should be the first port of call, said Fatma Hammashi, a Tunisian nurse who works at Al Taqadom Primary School in Al Shamkha.
"Schools have the most responsibility because students spend a lot of time in them, so nurses must encourage students to decrease bad habits, to establish good behaviour for nutrition and to find good ways to decrease dental caries," Ms Hammashi said.
Dental caries, which infect and destroy teeth, are also referred to as tooth decay or cavities.
Another role of the school nurse is preventive care, said Gehan Boumiza, a nurse at Al Asayel School in Khalifa City A.
"It's very important because here in the Emirates there are many cases of dental caries," Ms Boumiza said.
"Abu Dhabi Smiles, which has been running since September, is a collaboration between the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad), the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the Ambulatory Health Services and the dental care product company Crest and Oral B.
Children, their parents and school nurses are all targeted, said Dr Ilhaam Abbas, a dentist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
Dr Abbas will teach nurses how to use a referral letter and how to have a consent form signed correctly to ensure that children receive adequate care.
"The main thing is changing knowledge," said Samira Al Kathiri, a health promotions officer at Haad. "We know there are lots of preventive ways to avoid caries but the knowledge is not available to our children."
Ms Al Kathiri said some children were found not to have brushed their teeth in more than a month.
School campaigns such as this can have a big effect, said Danielle Nakhle, whose daughter Raphaelle, 6, attends Lycee Louis Massignon in Abu Dhabi.
"My daughter's school has one day every week dedicated to hygiene and health lectures," said Mrs Nahke, who is also a nurse.
She said children at the school were also taught how to hold a brush.
Ms Hammashi said changing children's perception of dental care would take time.
"They are interested but it is difficult to avoid this problem now," she said. "It will take many years because it is very difficult to change their habits in one day, or in a month."
Dr Abushaba said she hoped the campaign would also teach people that school nurses were capable of treating more than just minor ailments.
"Before, the school nurse was only there to look at a child who had fallen down," she said.
"Now we want to make them more involved in the whole well-being of the child."