1st October 2013 Update on Tooth Brushing Programme in Cape Town:

For the last 6 months, 600 school children have been taking part in the Dental Wellness Trust supervised tooth brushing programme in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The programme is aimed at children between the ages of 4-6 years old and teaches them how to brush and look after their teeth. There is a strong need for education about oral health in Khayelitsha where access to proper dental treatment is limited.

We are very excited about the progress which has been made so far. In August 2013 we sent a delegation to evaluate the programme in Khayelitsha. It is clear that the programme is producing positive results. Firstly, the children are really enjoying the programme at school. Music and song play a key role. To help reinforce the message of oral health, the children together with their teachers have made up songs lasting two minutes, which also help keep track of the recommended two minutes to brush their teeth.

You can hear some of these songs on our YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/DentalWellnessTrust

Furthermore, the children are taking the oral health messages they learn at school back home to their families. Ndaliso Thandeka, a teacher at the Luthando Educare Centre in Gugulethu explains why the programme is so valuable,

‘…yes, the children learn a lot. The parents at home can’t teach the children about their teeth, but now when the children are here at school, we know the teachers watch. They take the toothbrush, and the toothpaste, and put it on the brush, and wash their teeth, and we know that early in the morning when they (the children) wake up at home, they tell their mother, you must go to the shop, buy a brush and toothpaste to wash my teeth. So I love this programme…the children don’t have the stuff at all at home…’

There is also increasing demand among both children and parents for the programme. Lulama Sigasana the Health and Nutrition Manager at Ikamva Labuntu explains that ‘(at one school) we had 35 children who had filled in their consent forms…and then they started the tooth brushing programme. The teacher said they (other children) came back for more of the forms, because the parents came to ask them for more of the forms, they said, why is my child not brushing? So we gave out 100 more forms…’

There is clearly a need for the programme. However, essential resources are needed to ensure it remains a sustainable solution. We need to fund toothbrushes and toothpaste to continue the programme, and to meet the need of further schools in the region. The teachers face daily challenges due to lack of resources in the schools. Mavis Paglingela, Lukhanyo Educare teacher explains, ‘my only problem is that there is one teacher and a lot of children. I have 78 in one class. It is too much. But they enjoy the tooth brushing. I have to observe them…we also have a meeting (with the parents) to tell them how it is important to brush their teeth’.

Dr Linda Greenwall, Founder of the Dental Wellness Trust, will be travelling back to Cape Town in November to host the second Oral Health Conference in the Western Cape. This will be an opportunity for all key stakeholders to assess the progress which has been made. The teachers involved in the programme will share their experiences and evaluate the impact it has had on children’s oral health.

Training for the teachers who supervise the programme has been coordinated together with Ikamva Labuntu, an established South African charity which has experience of working with local communities.