Brushing up on dental health in rural South Africa

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Five schools, five days, 1 745 children educated about dental care in Limpopo, with each child receiving a Colgate Dental package, through the Tshemba Foundation.

Over 60% of South African primary school children suffer from dental decay, according to local studies, with 80% of these children remaining untreated. This is in part due to the country’s overstretched and under-resourced oral health system, but also because of poor health-seeking behaviour. The Tshemba Foundation, a medical voluntourism programme in Hoedspruit, organises dental outreach programmes, as part of their commitment to upgrading rural health.

“Poor dental health can greatly impact a child’s life, as oral health is integral to general health,” explains Godfrey Phillips, who co-founded Tshemba in 2014 with Neil Tabatznik. “It can also lead to poor academic performance at school and absenteeism. This is why we partner with brands like Colgate, with the aim to educate one child at a time about dental care. We hope that in doing this, we can make a difference to their life in the long term.”

The Tshemba and Colgate teams, with a highly visible red Colgate truck, visited schools and clinics in the area, to establish community relationships and to educate, treat and deliver dental packages. Working with the teachers at each school, up to 380 pupils were taught about dental care and treated each morning.

The state of rural oral health

“With rural dental care, everything is of great need,” says Phillips. “We need more education about oral health, more people who are committed to providing services, and more dental recovery processes planned for everyone. Our biggest focus must be on upgrading rural health and facilities, to somewhere near their urban counterparts.”

With limited facilities and few dentists available, people living in rural areas have little access to proper oral health care education or solutions. With dental outreach programmes such as those being organised by Tshemba, oral health care services are being provided to some of the most vulnerable communities.

 “It’s incredibly rewarding to see how happy and attentive the children are to learn about dental care, which is why we are already planning our first dental outreach programme for 2019. Our biggest challenge, however, is ensuring that we have enough qualified dental volunteer professionals to support our work.”