Dental care and oral hygiene education are important components of the medical services we provide to our patients on MEDLIFE Mobile Clinics. During a recent Mobile Clinic in Lima, a large number of patients presented a number of serious dental conditions. This led myself and the other interns to ponder a rather simple question: what exactly is the state of dental and oral hygiene in Peru? After spending a few hours on various search engines and finding little to no results on basic dental care, I began to realize an answer to this question.
As is the case in many developing countries, Peru simply does not have sufficient resources to provide quality dental services to communities in need. The limited funding in the health care sector is often allocated to the more “prominent” issues – diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and hepatitis. A 2008 research paper highlighted many of the oral health issues poor Peruvians currently face, as well as the inadequacies of the existing infrastructure. At present, there exists one dental professional per approximately 9,000 people in Peru, a statistic which only begins to describe the overall lack of availability of dental care in the country. As a result of the general lack of public resources, there has been a shift toward the privatization of oral health services. This shift, though aimed to improve quality and access, has led to a surge in less-affordable private practices. The remaining public hospitals focus mostly on emergency care and pain relief, and, lacking additional funding, are forced to ignore preventative or restorative care methods altogether. For areas like Pamplona Alta in Lima, much more remains to be done to help improve the community’s level of oral hygiene.
So, what can MEDLIFE do to help improve dental health in Peru? We can focus our efforts on two distinct services: providing immediate relief to poor communities, and educating families on how to maintain proper hygiene. Our dentists perform cavity fillings and tooth extractions for patients who need them. Since many of these procedures are only available publicly at urban hospitals in the center of big cities, they may be difficult to come by for those who live in the outskirts of Lima where MEDLIFE operates our Mobile Clinics.
In addition to offering treatment, MEDLIFE has also installed an educational program on all Mobile Clinics. By teaching children the importance of daily tooth-brushing, MEDLIFE works to instill dental hygiene practices at the earliest age possible. The educational aspects of our Mobile Clinics help empower communities to take their oral health into their own hands. After a tooth-brushing lesson, we apply fluoride treatment to each child – a method that has been shown to be particularly effective in dental cavity prevention.
Poor dental hygiene can lead to malnutrition, meningitis, tooth loss, and a number of other permanent consequences. Although dental and oral health can be difficult to maintain in countries like Peru, expanding services and preventative education are some of the steps we can take to improve existing conditions.
Minnie Dasgupta is a MEDLIFE Summer Intern in Lima, Peru.