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Children's Oral Health & Nutrition Project

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  • The Challenge: An Epidemic of Tooth Decay
  • Project Overview:
    Founded in 2004 by Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a public health expert, physician, and professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, the Children’s Oral Health Project reduces child malnutrition in the developing world through medical interventions and educational campaigns. The project began as a joint effort with a nonprofit community health organization in El Salvador (ASAPROSAR), and has since spread to a number of other countries.
    As a Field Researcher for this community-based action study, I have supported the project in 5 countries. 
  • Context:
    In some parts of the world, soda is cheaper than milk and safer than water. As a result, many mother's choose to bottle-feed their babies with the sugar-laden beverages, which has destructive health effects. 
    Tooth decay affects 50-95% of youth throughout the developing world, and has been increasing over recent decades with the shift in marketing and consumption of sugary foods from developed to emerging markets. According to Coca Cola’s 2011 Year in Review report, Latin America is the largest operating group in terms of unit case volume for the fifth consecutive year (see graphic). 
    In an interview with PBS, Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez stated, “The marketing of junk food, candy, chips, soda at very low price really takes advantage of the poorest people. So, they're trying to show this image that if you drink soda or eat the junk food, you will be healthy, happy, modern.”
    Thus, Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez has developed an innovative model that emphasizes the promotion of early (birth to age 6) oral health and good nutrition to prevent tooth decay and improve children’s overall development and well-being. 
  • Photo taken in Puebla Kichwa, Ecuador.
  • Model:
    For six years, Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez worked with student volunteers, doctors, and dentists to examine hundreds of children ages 6 months to 6-year-olds, interview mothers, train community health workers in oral health and nutrition, train local dentists to apply fluoride varnish, and provide free oral hygiene supplies to children and their families.
  • Medical intervention in the Amazonian region of Ecuador.  
  • Medical intervention in Amazonian region of Ecuador. 
  • Actions & Tools: 
    Community-based action study – mixed model research  
    Longitudinal surveys
    Group discussions
    Visual guides
    Photographic documentation
    Medical examinations and interventions
    Training workshops
    Resource distribution
    Referrals to local health practitioners
    Statistical report
    Needs assessment
    Education brochures
    Visual overview of project (video/photography/posters)
    Dental products
  • Public health training in Puebla Kichwa, Ecuador.
  • Medical intervention in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Interview tool used during interviews with children in El Salvador. 
    Credit: Seth Gutierrez
  • Results:
    At the end of the six-year period, preliminary results showed improvement:
    -       Tooth decay was reduced from 85% to 50% of children
    -       Mouth pain was reduced from 47% to 22%
    -       Malnutrition dropped from 16% to 2%
    Based on the Salvadoran pilot project, Dr. Sokal- Gutierrez has replicated her model in other countries: Ecuador, Nepal (since 2010), Vietnam (since 2011), India (since 2013)
  • Toothbrush delivery and public health workshop in Gakanga, Kenya.
  • Toothbrush delivery and public health workshop in Gakanga, Kenya.