Saving Baby Teeth

Saving Baby Teeth

Student team member Wong Yau Sing providing individual consultation service to a mother

Tooth decay is prevalent among young children in Hong Kong, where one survey has estimated nearly half of all five year olds suffer from the problem. While schools provide oral health education to children in the primary years and up, and through the efforts of the HKU Faculty of Dentistry, programmes are starting to target pre-schoolers, good and bad habits can start even earlier. It's not only the children but the parents also need to be educated.

With that in mind, an initiative from the Faculty of Dentistry targeted pregnant mothers to teach them about children's oral health even before their babies were born.

The project found a natural forum in a waiting room at Tsan Yuk Hospital where women come for ante-natal checkups - including, at one point, Dr Yang Yanqi of the Faculty who was expecting herself.

"I noticed they were doing seminars and talks on such things as how to bathe a baby and it gave me the idea to organise something similar on oral health," she said. "In fact, research has shown that most of the pregnant women lack knowledge about infant oral health, as well as about the importance of their own oral health during pregnancy."

She approached Year 4 students who, led by project leader Candy Ma Kwan-ning, liaised with Tsan Yuk Hospital and created and delivered a programme that showed women how to care for their baby's oral health as well as their own. The student team also applied for and secured funding from the Student Knowledge Exchange Project Grant Scheme to run the project.

Initially, four workshops were organised in a separate room at the hospital and while the feedback was very favourable, only 20 women attended. The students therefore tried a different approach to reach more women.

"We saw a need to provide in-depth educational consultations so we arranged with the hospital to set up consultation booths over another two half-day sessions," Candy said. "The women were able to consult us and receive on-site oral hygiene instructions individually."

Some 103 women participated and they were quizzed before and after they had attended the booth and read a pamphlet on oral health that was prepared by the students. Almost all of the women showed they had a better understanding of such things as how to clean a baby's mouth, the importance of breastfeeding, and when it is safe and when it is harmful for children to suck their thumb.

Dr Yang said they planned to continue the programme at Tsan Yuk Hospital or other venues to further promote ante-natal oral health care and education.