Abu Dhabi initiative offers free dental treatment for underprivileged children
ABU DHABI // An Abu Dhabi clinic will offer free dental care to underprivileged youngsters after the scheme proved a success in the United States.
More than 50 children between the ages of three and 13 are expected to be given pro-bono dental treatment during the UAE’s first Give Kids a Smile programme on January 30.
Dentists and hygienists from the International Centre for Dental Excellence in Abu Dhabi will work for free for families who cannot usually afford treatment.
A similar programme first rolled out across America in 2003 treats more than 400,000 poverty-stricken children annually. UAE figures show most children were in need of help.
In 1981 the World Health Organisation and the World Dental Federation set goals for oral health by 2000, aiming for 50 per cent of five to six-year-olds to be free of dental cavities. The UAE decay markers, according to research conducted between 2010 and 2014, are way short of targets.
Dentists at the Hamdan bin Mohammed College of Dental Medicine in Dubai said 82 per cent of five-year-olds in the UAE had obvious tooth decay. In the capital, the prevalence was between 78.85 per cent and 95 per cent.
The programme has been six months in the making, with founder Nora Mohsin Aledawi hoping it would lead to a change in attitudes towards dental care.
“We have been seeing severe decay,” she said. “Not just decay that can be treated with fillings, but the kind of decay that needs complete extractions.
“It is a combination of educational reasons and families not having the financial resources they need, or even language barriers preventing parents from seeking the right care for their children.”
Ms Aledawi first contacted government schools to assess demand, but soon realised the need among poorer families was greater, so began approaching families on minimum wage.
Qualifying criteria included a salary of Dh15,000 a month for a family of four.
“Some of these children are hard to reach outside of the family unit,” she said. “They are left behind and are suffering tooth decay and infections that sometimes need emergency care.
“This neglect impacts on their overall health for years, as dental health can be a window to well being.”
A study of dental health among 300 children in Ajman between the ages of nine to 12 published in the Journal of Advanced Oral Research shows more than half needed orthodontic corrective treatment. Researchers said that of those studied, 31 per cent were in moderate need and 20.3 per cent had great need, because of overcrowding or horizontal overlapping of teeth. Girls and boys were equally affected.
Dr Iyad Hussein, assistant clinical professor in paediatric dentistry at Hamdan bin Mohammed College, said cavities in children was not just a UAE problem but a global issue.
“The GKAS initiative in Abu Dhabi is a very welcome event and should be rolled out to cover the whole of the UAE,” he said. “Tooth decay is a world-endemic disease. In the UAE, affluence does not matter as far as decay is concerned.”
In a survey of UAE dentists last year, 69 per cent thought dental decay in children had nothing to do with affluence.
Measuring tooth decay in young children is scored with the decayed, missing, filled teeth marker, or DMFT.
The UAE’s score is extremely high globally. The range of DMFT in children between the ages of four and six is 5.1 to 8.4. This means, on average, a five-year-old with 20 baby teeth has five to eight decayed teeth.
The number for Dubai was 6.6 compared to 0.36 for England and 1.35 for Scotland.
“As prevention is better than cure, the message is simple – brush twice a day for two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste, spit the toothpaste out and do not rinse, and cut down on sugary snacks between meals,” Dr Hussein said.
Updated: January 19, 2016 04:00 AM