Smile Uganda!




This is my project through Smile Revolution for the children of Uganda and perhaps for other developing countries that so desperately need our help to improve their dental health. In my proposal I look at developing and implementing innovative oral health education content to reach the world’s children with our important oral health messages.


The WHO considers tooth decay a pandemic and three- quarters of the world’s children suffer pain that can be excruciating. The children are impoverished and caught up in a cycle of poor living conditions, high sugar diets, weak oral hygiene traditions and poor accessibility to dental services. With only 1:158 000 dentist to population, the rural communities of Uganda are severely disadvantaged in dental service access and suffer considerable hardship and pain. They may have to resort to traditional healers and suffer unnecessary pain with extractions and infection.


With the introduction of simple handwashing and toothbrushing to young children in school, research has shown that we can make that big difference to the dental health of children. If we can teach them the importance of brushing and support them in the early years, they have the foundation of improved dental health, general health and wellbeing for life.


I have volunteered with Dentaid on several projects in the past to Uganda, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Morocco so I am familiar with the on-the-ground complexities of running a dental clinic or teaching children in hot over-crowded classrooms. But in every situation, we adapt to the local needs and conditions of that day. Whether it is that trek up steep mountain paths to reach small remote communities in Nepal, or the steaming hot afternoon clinic in a camp in Sri Lanka, we are welcomed with flowers, bright smiles, a stick of sugar cane, a bowl of dhal bhat. The opportunities are immensely rewarding.


There are so many examples of the different rural communities we have worked in and so many stories to tell you. It could be the impoverished tea pickers on a plantation in Sri Lanka who have desperately poor oral health, or the marginalised fishing villages that line the golden beaches where the poverty is even more marked. It could be the refuge for the street children of Pokhara whether the smell of glue from their addiction lingers on the clothing of those as young as 5 years, or the mouths of young children with baby bottle tooth decay where every tooth is a brown stub in the sugar plantations in Uganda. We saw so much rampant baby bottle tooth decay here, where syrupy drinks are used to pacify their restless babies, the very syrup that causes them to cry in pain at night. Education is key and knowledge is life changing.


This project is all about reaching out to the impoverished marginalised communities and becomes even more relevant during the world coronavirus pandemic, where tooth decay and infections also reach pandemic levels and where access to dental care has been even further reduced.


At this stage in my project, I am looking at the most effective ways to teach oral health to primary care workers in Uganda from the UK. Online seems a great possibility particularly as travel is difficult but there are logistical considerations such as internet connection and availability of computers and phones. I am so grateful to Philips for their ongoing mentorship support through Smile Revolution as I push my project forward.


Anne Powders

Image: a young boy chews on sugar cane while holding his toothbrush and paste


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