Dental Project Helps Children Gain an Identity

Dental Project Helps Children Gain an Identity

Campaign in Chennai, India

Oral examination in Guangxi, Mainland China

About one-third of births in the world are unregistered, according to the United Nations' International Children’s Emergency Fund. In a world where governments and other providers of public services increasingly demand proof of identity, the lack of a registered identity can make it difficult for children to get an education and medical treatment and may leave them vulnerable to abuse.

It was this situation that inspired staff and students in the Faculty of Dentistry to develop and apply tools that assess age via dental development, and therefore fill in some blanks about identity.

They have brought dental age assessment and oral health education programmes to two villages in India, where nearly 60 per cent of births are unregistered. About 50 undocumented children in rural welfare homes had their ages estimated through their efforts.

Students have also visited an orphanage in Mainland China to conduct programmes on age estimation and oral health education.

In addition, about 200 dentists and forensic practitioners in India and Hong Kong have been trained in dental age assessment and a charity, the D.O.B. (Date of Birth) Foundation, has been founded, the first of its kind in the world.

Dr Hai Ming Wong has been closely involved in the work and was motivated by a desire to help children in need.

"This is a global problem," she said. "If you don't have an identity card to show your age, you are not protected by society. But if you want an identity card, you need a birth certificate that shows your place of birth, your parents and most important your birth date. If you lack this data it becomes impossible – you can't make up a birth date. What we can contribute is that we have the tools and techniques to accurately determine age."

Tooth development follows a sequential pattern that relates more closely to chronological age than other physical or psychological attributes.

However, while there has been much research on tooth development among Western populations, this has been lacking for Chinese populations. So, in addition to sharing knowledge about dental age assessment, the Faculty has also been building up a database for Chinese populations using data collected while providing oral health checks and education to teenagers in Southern District.

"This information will help to identify children in natural disasters such as earthquakes, or to help orphans," Dr Wong said. Their work has also enabled them to join forces and build capacity with dental organisations and relief agencies in India, Mainland China and Hong Kong.

Dr Hai Ming WONG and team members - Jayakumar JAYARAMAN, Lingwei LI, Tao PEI, Ling SUN, Yifeng WEN, Pui Ying Phoebe LAM, Ka Yan CHEUNG, Kit LEE and Ka Fai WONG, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2015 of the Faculty of Dentistry for 'Dental Development: An Aid to Give Identities and to Inform General Health'.