Poor oral health is an important contributor to morbidity worldwide. Oral diseases have consistently been listed among the top causes of years lived with disability . Dental caries (tooth decay) in particular is the most widespread non-communicable disease, with nearly three billion adults and children affected worldwide . Dental caries is associated with consequences ranging from issues with nutritional intake to poorer quality of life, with a large impact among children – especially those in low- and middle-income countries with reduced access to appropriate dental care. Despite this, oral health has generally attracted little global programmatic focus.
To address this, the Global Child Dental Fund (GCDFund), a UK-based oral health charity, works to enable children from the world’s most deprived communities to access dental care and prevent associated pain and morbidity. It builds upon the success of the Global Child Dental Health Taskforce, which was established by the UK government and Professor Raman Bedi in 2006. The Taskforce responded to the landmark Declaration on Child Oral Health signed by 40 senior dental advisors, international Chief Dental Officers and World Health Organization representatives . Its aim was to reduce early childhood caries among children under five years of age in low-income countries. GCDFund continues to work towards this goal through leading sustainable efforts in prevention and advocacy. GCDFund’s main areas of work include its dental aid programme partnering with local organisations to further dental provision for low-income children; its social responsibility drive aimed towards recognising efforts in community oral health, enabling further learning and increasing awareness; and network building between both general and dental healthcare professionals.
Most importantly, a key area of focus is developing leadership in oral health. Leadership is a much-neglected skill in dentistry and indeed throughout global health compared with other sectors such as global enterprise . More dental leaders are needed worldwide, who can anticipate and plan for future country-level demands, and advocate, educate and inspire local populations towards healthier lifestyles. To this end, in 2006, GCDFund initiated a collaboration with two eminent dental institutions, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and King’s College London, to host a flagship dental leadership programme – the Senior Dental Leaders programme (SDL). Colgate-Palmolive and Henry Schein rapidly came on board to sponsor the programme.
The result has been a highly productive 12-year partnership between GCDFund and four of the most recognisable names in oral health. Since 2006, SDL has trained over 200 of the most senior dental policy makers, academics and non-governmental organisation (NGO) officials in 43 countries to advance their leadership skills. These delegates have implemented transformational child oral health projects in their own countries. One notable legacy project from SDL is SEAL Cambodia, where in just over three years, 66 000 children were administered protective fissure sealants on their permanent molars by a locally trained workforce. This procedure has been shown to reduce dental caries by up to 76% even after four years . The SEAL Cambodia project won a prestigious Fédération Dentaire International award for Sustainability in 2016.
Sustained interventions to address poor global child oral health continue to be necessary. Strong leadership is key to such efforts – meaning that leadership training will continue to be as fundamental as acquiring clinical skills. Along with its work in other areas, the GCDFund remains committed to enabling aspiring leaders in oral health to gain the required tools to develop and steer large scale sustainable efforts in child oral health worldwide.
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