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A reason to smile in Kamloops
Nowadays, many Canadian children grow up without cavities, thanks to regular check-ups and daily oral hygiene. The reality for some Aboriginal children, however, is far different.
Without ready access to oral health services and education, rates of tooth decay are two to five times higher among First Nations children. And they are more likely to need dental surgery than their non-Aboriginal peers.
In 2003, the Q'wemtsin Health Society - a Kamloops-based, non-profit organization that provides health services to six local bands in the Thompson region - established the "Early Intervention Dental Research Project" in an effort to help improve these odds.
"A lot of communities are isolated, so just getting to a dentist is difficult," explains Jennifer Melville, a dental hygienist hired by the Society. "In partnership with Health Canada's Children's Oral Health Initiative (COHI), we've established toothbrush programs at the different schools and we also apply regular fluoride varnishes to slow down and prevent decay."
Cindy Andrews - an aide with COHI - has three children in the Early Intervention project. For her, the benefits are clear. "When I started with the program, about 75 per cent of the kids in my band had a least one cavity. Being able to educate them about dental health and take away some of their fears about the dentist is a big accomplishment," she says.
In 2005, the Q'wemtsin Society received a $50,000 grant from Vancouver Foundation to help fund the research component of their project, a three-year initiative that involves hiring community-based educators to work with parents and document the outcomes of the program.
"The funding will go a long way towards helping us change ingrained behaviours and attitudes," says Jennifer. "We can't thank Vancouver Foundation enough."
To find out more about the Q'wemtsin Health Society, visit their website at www.qwemtsin.org
(Originally aired: 2006)