Efforts target children in rural areas, where up to 90 percent of residents are said to lack knowledge of basic oral hygiene.
Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Children learn the value of oral health care from a Unilever/Cambodian dental association campaign which has gone out into schools across the Kingdom.
IN FOCUS Oral hygiene
- Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste 2-3 times per day
- Floss to clean particles from between teeth. Floss is healthier than toothpicks, which have the potential to cause infections
- Gargling with mouthwash is optional for healthy teeth, but can help with dentures and bad breath
- Children's teeth should be examined every six months for damage such as cavities or decay
- Foods like sweets, cakes and soft drinks can cause rapid tooth decay.
The Ministry of Health last week commended efforts by two dental health programs to raise awareness among school-age children of the importance of proper oral hygiene.
Hem Chhin, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, welcomed the achievements of the programs - the first, a collaboration between international manufacturer Unilever and the Cambodian Dental Association (CDA), and the second, a series of educational workshops conducted by the US-based NGO Resource Development International.
"It is good that people are caring more about oral health care," he said. "The longer we run these campaigns the better".
A rural problem
Health officials estimate that about 70 percent to 80 percent of residents in Phnom Penh are aware of the necessity of regularly cleaning their teeth and mouths. By contrast, only about 10 percent of residents in rural areas have a similar knowledge of dental hygiene.
"Our campaign aims to educate children from second grade through fifth grade so that they know how to clean their teeth properly," Sok Kear, branch executive manager of Unilever Co Ltd, said Wednesday.
He added that the program emphasises basic practices such as brushing after meals, flossing and regular visits to a licensed dentist.
"We are cooperating with the [CDA], so all our programs are arranged by [them]," Sok Kear said.
The Unilever-CDA campaign has reached 20,000 children at 29 different schools, including 14 in Phnom Penh, since it was launched in October, Sok Kear said, adding that when the program concludes in June, the company plans to sponsor a new clean-water campaign to help educate children about the importance of clean water.
It is clear that the mouth and the teeth greatly affect the general health of the whole body.
The RDI program has taken a similar approach to correcting deficiencies in oral hygiene education by bringing dental specialists into primary schools in Kandal province's Lvear Aem and Kien Svay districts to lead workshops on good dental health practices.
The workshops, which target children between the ages of 6 and 12, are run in groups of about 100 students and usually last for one to five hours, the group said.
"We have showed [students] how to clean their teeth and wash their hands," said Chem Sothak, a rural school educator with RDI.
"The campaign aims to teach children the value of cleanliness and show them how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle," he said.
Need for registered clinics
Proper education about the fundamentals of good dental health is not the only problem educators face.
According to Health Ministry figures, as many as 500 unlicensed dental clinics are currently operating throughout the Kingdom, in contrast to only 50 that are properly registered with the government.
Hem Chhin said the government aims to establish at least one dental facility in every state hospital and health care facility in the near future.
He said that many Cambodians have not been concerned with good dental health practices in recent years because they have been focussed more on ensuring they have enough food to feed themselves and their families.
He added that as poverty starts to decline, healthy teeth are becoming more of a priority.
"Last month, I attended an oral health care seminar, and it was clear that the mouth and the teeth greatly affect the general health of the whole body. So we must take care of them," he said.
"I also believe now that people don't simply want to get their teeth fixed, but that they are also paying more attention to the quality and beauty of having fine teeth," Hem Chhin said.