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Story Highlights

  • Support for oral health care in Jamaica has received a major boost, with the recent launch of Help Jamaica Smile Foundation.
  • The group, which comprise dental professionals attached to the University of Technology (UTech) College of Oral Health Sciences, is supported by the Ministry of Health, the private sector, and student volunteers.
  • According to Director with the group, Dr. Irving McKenzie, who is also Jamaica’s Chief Dental Officer, as is the case with many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), there is no group currently dedicated to promote oral health, and “oral health is an essential part of our general health and wellbeing.”

Support for oral health care in Jamaica has received a major boost, with the recent launch of Help Jamaica Smile Foundation.

The group, which comprise dental professionals attached to the University of Technology (UTech) College of Oral Health Sciences, is supported by the Ministry of Health, the private sector, and student volunteers.

According to Director with the group, Dr. Irving McKenzie, who is also Jamaica’s Chief Dental Officer, as is the case with many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), there is no group currently dedicated to promote oral health, and “oral health is an essential part of our general health and wellbeing.”

“The Foundation was formed to work as a vehicle for voluntarism – students and doctors getting into the communities and ensuring that we help to provide significant oral health outreach to those who are in need,” Dr. McKenzie tells JIS News.

He says oral health, though not widely accepted in the society, is very important to a person’s wellbeing… and where needs exist, and persons are at risk of worsening their condition, they want to mobilize resources and reach them on a timely basis.

“From another perspective, we are associated with the College of Oral Health Sciences, where there are tremendous human resources. So, we become the sort of vehicle for exposure of young doctors in dental surgery, young nurses, hygienists, and other professionals in dentistry, to reach underserved sections of the population, especially special needs children,”  Dr. McKenzie says.

During Oral Health Month (October), when the Foundation was formally launched, with support from the private sector and other organizations caring for special needs children, the group established a dental clinic at the Randolph Lopez School of Hope, in St. Andrew.

They staged symposiums and visited schools across the island to sensitize children and the wider population on oral health issues.

Some of the other institutions that benefited from the Oral Health Month activities  were  the Salvation Army School for the Blind, and the Maxfield Park Children’s Home, in St. Andrew.

“To us, special need is very important; they are our priority and focus. We are big on the health care of children, and more so, on special needs kids,” the Director  says.

To reach the special needs population, the Foundation collaborates with the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA), Jamaica Association of People Living with Intellectual Disabilities, Special Olympics Jamaica, and other such focus groups.

“We are there for the special needs population, and want them to know that the oral health of children is very important,” Dr. McKenzie says.

Another Director of the Foundation, Dr. Caithlin Williams, says the school visits showed that people are interested in oral health. She lauds the educational institutions for focusing on educating children on the care of their mouths.

“In the schools, they have started to teach about the teeth, the types of teeth that you have, and the foods you need to eat to help with your teeth. That’s all good and well, and I am happy that we are starting to incorporate oral health education at the basic level in the schools,” she says.

She warns against persons using traditional home remedies to solve problems of the mouth, such as swelling of  the gums, noting that many of them develop into oral cancer.

“It is very important that when these legions arise, you go to the dentist,”  Dr. Williams urges.

The group is on a mission to raise funds to establish an oral cancer research and treatment centre at their Arthur Wint Drive facility, to boost the services offered at the island’s other facility, located at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH).

At the end of October, they hosted an oral cancer walk/run, which will be repeated  next year. All the proceeds will go toward the building of the centre.

Persons wishing to contact the Foundation for assistance with staging of health fairs, and other support, can do so by calling 908-3440, 927-680- ext. 3230; or email, suzannemgrey@hotmail.com.