Survey Set to Improve Children’s Smiles

Basseterre, St. Kitts (SKNIS) — The children of St. Kitts and Nevis will be the beneficiaries of improved smiles and overall better health, once the findings of the current oral health survey determines the root causes of poor dental hygiene among randomly selected students in the Federation.

The assessment, which began November 10, is termed a Decayed, Missing and Filled Teeth (DMFT) and Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Survey that will be conducted on children 6, 12 and 15 years of age. It is a collaborative effort between the St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)/World Health Organisation (WHO).

Coordinator of the survey, Dr. Randy Liburd who is based at the Newton Dental Unit, explained the purpose of the study.

“The oral health survey involves not only an examination of the teeth but also identifies mucosal legions which are ulcers on the lips and inside the cheeks,” Dr. Liburd explained. “Apart from having cavities, gingivitis or gum disease, mucosal legions depict the extent of poor oral hygiene where there is a high bacterial count.”

Dr. Liburd revealed that a high bacterial count in the mouth can cause bleeding or swollen gums, bad breath and associated pain. He noted that following the examination, the children surveyed will be classified into three categories – those who do not require treatment, those who require routine treatment such as cleaning or fillings and those who need urgent treatment for absesses or extraction of a tooth.

The Survey Coordinator explained that parents would be involved from the beginning of the process. He elaborated that students will be randomly selected from public schools around the island and consent will be sought from those parents for their children to take part in the survey. Once consent is given, the parents of the six year olds will receive a simple pre-examination questionnaire. The 12 and 15 year olds will fill this out themselves with the guidance of the dentists.

The process received a guiding hand from PAHO, who assisted in the survey preparatory stages by sourcing Dr Fannye Thompson, Senior Dental Officer in the Ministry of Health, Barbados to conduct a calibration exercise with dental examiners, recorders and interviewers in St. Kitts. The training ran from October 27 – 31, 2014 with the Minister of Health, Honourable Marcella Liburd commenting directly on oral care.

“Two of the main oral diseases in St. Kitts and Nevis are dental caries and periodontal diseases,” Minister Liburd revealed. “This oral health survey can provide for evidence-based programmatic implementation to strengthen and improve the existing school-based dental programme, and also to update polices and modernize legislation that would guarantee better oral healthcare for all, starting with the school-aged populations.”

During the first phase of the survey, the children’s mouths are being examined by the dentists located at the four dental units based at the Newtown Health Centre and the Pogson Medical Centre in St. Kitts and the Charlestown and Gingerland Health Centres in Nevis. Medical assistants will record the findings on the survey questionnaire. Questions include: “Have you ever needed dental care and could not get it?” “Do you avoid smiling and laughing because of your teeth?” and “Do your gums bleed when brushing and flossing?” Following the examination, the students will be given a fluoride mouth rinse.

Phase Two is data entry, when the findings are entered into a software programme. Phase Three is data analysis when WHO and PAHO will assist with the interpretation of the data.

Dr. Liburd noted that the survey findings will be compiled in a report that will be sent to the Ministry of Health in order to improve the existing school dental programmes and the overall health of the students.

“The findings of the survey will help us to improve our programmes, modernize and implement legislation towards oral health care,” Dr. Liburd emphasized. “It must be noted that oral issues is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from school. We intend to change that in the Federation starting with a specific plan of action.”

Dr. Liburd noted that the survey team wished to thank the Minister of Health and PetroCaribe for donating a laptop computer each toward data entry and analysis. Special mention was also made of parents, teachers and students as well as the Ministry of Education in general and the Government Printery.

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