Dentistry has not been left behind in the influx of volunteer medical health to Haiti, with Global News Canada reporting that North American dentists were heading to the island in their droves to provide much-needed oral care. With each mission treating hundreds of Haitians in need of urgent dental diagnosis and work, the overall picture of dental hygiene is improving across the country. By providing an example, analysts are pondering whether these volunteer efforts are providing the impetus for the island to improve on a permanent basis.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these volunteer missions is not the care itself, but the education it imparts. Dentistry acts in a way where the entire community is involved and there are tangible results. For example, cosmetic and restorative procedures provide a talking point and a ‘spark’ for the community to rally around, and preventative dentistry helps with issues before they affect overall health: each time this happens, education is spread. This is absolutely crucial in Haiti, and particularly so in rural areas. According to an analysis of various studies undertaken by the HuffPo, dental hygiene problems are endemic to rural areas, and for every 10,000 people, only one dentist is available. This is despite the easiest ways to prevent ill oral health – brushing and flossing teeth – being readily available. The simple act of providing community-driven education and good news stories will be influential in improving Haitian dental care.
The cholera effect
Cholera reached epidemic levels in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, with the UN admitting it had a role to play in releasing the disease. Cholera is slowly on its way to eradication, according to Forbes, but the fight against the disease has had an interesting impact on dental health. According to volunteers, dental health and cholera have an inextricable link, and the symptoms of cholera – vomiting and malnutrition – further exacerbate the causes and effects of poor dental care. Pairing together cholera care with dental work has created a situation where, again, disease is linked with poor dental care, and awareness is raised with regards to preventing decay.
International professional advocacy
With this influx of volunteers and overall improved outlook has come the advocacy of large organizations. In the UK, the International College of Dentists have, according to Dentistry.co.uk, partnered with organizations in Haiti to promote dental care. The result of this has been hundreds of children receiving life-changing pieces of advice; the basics of how to floss, how to brush, and when you need to see the dentist. As it becomes safer and easier for NGOs and schools to visit the island, this will only improve levels of dental hygiene and the overall prospects of Haitians to enjoy healthy and happy lives.
Dental care is an aspect of good health that is often taken for granted when it shouldn’t be. With many other health concerns, such as cholera, pressing Haitian services, dental care has become less of a focus. However, with the help of international volunteer efforts, good dental hygiene may soon be a reality across the island.