In Kenya, access to dental health care is limited, and what little treatment exists is very expensive. Consistent with national trends, most Daraja girls have never visited a dentist before coming to campus. Daraja Academy is thankful for the doctors from New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) and their team—not only for providing dental checkups, but also for their mission to equip and empower Daraja girls with the ability to take control of their oral health and start awareness initiatives in their home communities. Given Kenya’s limited oral health resources, awareness initiatives are key in preventing oral disease.
Recently, Daraja welcomed back Dr. Yvonne Buischi and Dr. Peter Loomer from NYUCD along with Brazilian collaborator Dr. Natalia Campos. As in previous visits, Dr. Loomer, Dr. Buischi, and their team assessed each girl’s oral health and provided specific instruction on how to care for teeth and gums. They also helped ensure consistent follow up by giving trainings to girls and staff on staying healthy and preventing oral disease.
“A well trained local team is vital for the long term success of a program which involves the adoption of health oriented habits.” – Dr. Buischi
When the NYU dentists are not on campus, Daraja’s Clinical Officer Francesca Muthoni and Dr. Mwongera Kimathi from Kenya Methodist University follow-up with the girls’ oral hygiene. The dental team also organized a group of form 4 students to take on responsibility for weekly oral cleanliness follow-ups with their peers.
Drs. Loomer, Buischi, and Campos are researching the best way to create an oral health initiative that will educate communities with little access to dental health care. They are touching the lives of many families by helping Daraja girls, but they want to go further. When the form 4 students learned of the dentists’ plans for outreach, they wanted to help. Dr. Loomer describes how the girls took initiative:
“Girls from Form 4 actually came to us last time we were here and said, ‘we would like to teach the students from the local community who attend other schools.’ They said, ‘We have improved our oral health, so we want to share the knowledge.”
The dentist were more than happy to help the girls reach out to their home communities and, more recently, the Ogeri Geri public school. At Ogeri Geri, each of the girls was equipped with a children’s booklet on oral health that Dr. Buischi and Dr. Loomer published with illustrations by Angelica Santana. The girls showed leadership ability as they led small group lessons on oral health and diet and demonstrated proper techniques of brushing and flossing. The local students were attentive, eager to floss and brush like their Daraja role models. Dr. Buischi describes the day of training:
“It was amazing for dentists to see the girls speaking in Swahili, directing the students on exactly how to make a “C” around each tooth with the floss. Even in the US most people do not use dental floss correctly, and these girls are doing it so correctly.”
Following the day of training, dentists and student leaders met to discuss how they could improve future outreach. The girls described challenges when teaching children at home who lacked proficiency in English; thus, Dr. Loomer and Dr. Buischi plan on translating the children’s booklet into Swahili. The dentists then discussed the need for follow up with community members in order to have long term impact because, as Dr. Loomer emphasized,
“Practice makes perfect and behavior change will not occur post one session.”
The part played by Daraja students in reaching out to the community reveals their ability to stand as leaders and inspire community change. Dr. Buischi shared some encouraging parting thoughts about the outreach program and Daraja girls:
“It was really interesting for me to see the Daraja girls in action—to see how empowered, how capable, how smart, and how caring they are. They are so knowledgeable now. They know so much more than anyone else around them, and they have this humble attitude in which they are willing to share generously. I was really impressed.”
We so appreciate Dr. Yvonne Buischi and Dr. Peter Loomer’s investment in our girls and in the kind of education outreach that makes widespread community change a real possibility.
Special thanks to those collaborating with Drs. Loomer and Buischi: Mwongera Kimathi, BDS, MPH
Kenya Methodist University School of Medicine, Meru, Kenya Natalia Campos, DDS, Ph.D Sao Paulo State University (UNESP), Aracatuba, Brazil