Promoting oral health in Syria
The epidemiological data in Syria have shown clear increasing trends of a number of oral diseases across different age groups. For example, the prevalence of early childhood caries has increased from 74% in 1991, 82% in 2007 to 86% in 2013 with a recent dmft value of 7.7 (SD=4.9). Similar increasing prevalence is observed in dental trauma and oral cancer. In addition to this burden of oral diseases, many disadvantaged groups, such as, children with special needs, the elderly residents of nursing homes and the residents of shelter centres are facing multiple barriers to access essential oral health care. The current Syrian dental education is based on traditional hospital-based dental programmes.
To face the aforementioned increasing society-wide oral health needs, barriers to oral health care access and the need to modernise dental education, an outreach community-based dental education project named “Syrian Smiles” has been founded at Damascus University. Syrian Smiles aims to engage Damascus University with the service of its community and modernise its dental education through:
- providing outreach oral care to children with special needs, the elderly and other groups in the community who have difficulty accessing oral care,
- conducting community based applied research to assess oral health needs and the effectiveness of health promotion interventions,
- developing dental students’ knowledge, professional skills and attitudes to broaden their understanding of dental public health concepts and the social aspects of dentistry.
The project provides opportunities to practice community-based health promotion and deliver outreach oral care according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and promotes social responsibility, volunteerism, communication and teamwork. Syrian Smiles was piloted in 2011 with an outreach preventive oral care activity involving 400 third year dental undergraduates and 215 children with special needs who attended special care centres in Damascus. This outreach care was part of students’ required clinical work in dental public health and included giving nutrition advice, oral hygiene training and clinical interventions (specifically the application of varnish fluoride and sealant). No additional resources or mobile/portable clinics were used. Syrian Smiles success encouraged other disciplines to adopt outreach oral care. The Damascus University Dental School has since created Syrian Smiles for the elderly to provide outreach denture care, and Syrian Smiles for the residents of shelter centres to provide oral screening and referral.
Syrian Smiles has been recognized by national and international groups and organizations. Its students have won honors and received certificates of appreciation. The Damascus University Headquarters has organized events to celebrate and share the Syrian Smiles experience and perspective of community-based education with the national governmental, and nongovernmental and local communities’ representatives. In summary, Syrian Smiles is succeeding in building hope and peace in dental education within our country’s current very difficult context. It provides a reallife model and a road map for how higher education generally, and health education in particular, can be modernized and engaged to meet a country’s increasing health, social and economic needs
Assistant Professor of Dental Public Health and Oral Epidemiology: Oral Medicine Department, Faculty of Dentistry, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria.
Consultant for the Global Child Dental Fund.
Joury E Constructing Hope and Peace in Syrian Dental Education during the Country’s Time of Difficulty: Success in Syrian Smiles. Education For Health, 27(1), 71-72.