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Dental students promote WeCare oral health initiative for the disadvantaged

Monday 25 September 2017 7:42pm

Dental student Maxim Stephenson demonstrates best brushing practice to Ross Home resident Donald Anthony Smith. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

Students from the University of Otago’s Dental School volunteered their time and knowledge on Wednesday by teaching oral hygiene at Ross Home as part of the ‘WeCare’ oral health initiative.

‘WeCare’, a not-for-profit voluntary project organised by the New Zealand Dental Students’ Association (NZDSA), aims to promote geriatric oral health in Dunedin, and was a recent recipient of an Oral Care Education Grant worth $1,000, given to smaller scale projects that offer oral care education to high-risk groups.

The grant was given through the Wrigley Company Foundation Community Services Grant, a partnership formed in 2012 between the New Zealand Dental Association and oral healthcare brand Wrigleys to support oral health in disadvantaged New Zealanders. The funding supported the ‘WeCare’ group’s four-week voluntary programme at Ross Home.

From left, back row: students Phoebe Chiu and James Choo, professor Alison Rich, and Ross Home carers Sharon Wright and Pam Bates. Front row: student Nancy Chen, carer Edgar Condino and student Maxim Stephenson. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

The WeCare programme is a series of collaborations by staff and selected postgraduate and undergraduate students of the University of Otago’s Dental School with caregivers and registered nurses of participating long-term care facilities. The goal of the collaboration is to improve the oral hygiene and overall oral health of the residents at these facilities. Educational sessions with final-year dental and oral health student volunteers cover oral health topics such as proper oral hygiene techniques, denture care, and awareness of symptoms and signs that indicate the need for oral health professional care. The information provided during this programme was adopted from the 2010 New Zealand Dental Association publication 'Healthy Smile, Healthy Ageing: oral health guide for caregivers of older people.'

Student spokesperson and main organiser James Choo, a final year Otago undergraduate dental student, explains that there were four students involved – three undergraduate dentistry students and one Bachelor of Oral Health student – and they chose Ross Home to focus their programme on due to its large elderly group.

Student James emphasised the support they have received from Faculty of Dentistry staff, especially from their project supervisor Dr Ponnambalam Yoganathan and Dr Tim McKay from Southern District Health Board. The experience was “an eye opener” for the students.

“This project allows the volunteers to reach out to a different demographic of the community, making the student experience much more fulfilling. The WeCare project enables me to better empathise with the institutionalised elderly, and I enjoyed the experience.”

From left: Dental student Nancy Chen, Ross Home carers Sharon Wright and Edgar Condino, and student James Choo.

The students will write a paper about the impact of oral health promotion among caregivers of elderly people. A baseline study of the oral status of residents at Ross Home has already been conducted by post-graduate students, and dental student James says that later in the year, the study will measure this again to determine if the project has had any impact on the oral care of the residents.

Deputy Dean of Otago’s Faculty of Dentistry Professor Alison Rich says the students were very enthusiastic and provided a wonderful example of working as a dental team.

“The students had been there for a number of weeks and had engaged really well with both the carers and the residents, and I could see the satisfaction the students gained when the residents and carers said how much they had benefited from the programme.”