New Dental Hygiene Program at SEGA

We are Samantha Azadian, Jessica Begley, and Nannette Boakye, and we are second-year dental students at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.

And we are so honored to be at SEGA!

Less than a week after finishing our first-year finals of undergraduate and dental school, we were off to Morogoro, Tanzania where we would stay for 8 weeks. Our team was sponsored by the IFAP Global Health Program at Columbia to do research at SEGA Girls’ School. The school is seated in the valleys of the Uluguru Mountains and is surrounded by great sunflower fields. By our first few interactions, it was evident that the SEGA students are extremely bright, confident, and enthusiastic girls, and SEGA provides a vibrant education.

Our project was based on doing key-informant interviews with selected staff, including the nurse, biology teacher, headmistress, and life skills teacher, along with the students of SEGA. The interviews included questions about dental hygiene knowledge and availability of resources. We were surprised and fascinated by some of the insight that the students had. One girl asked how her teeth would be affected by becoming rich and being able to afford chocolate. Another girl noted that her teeth were stained brown, but it was normal where she was from; her mom had told her that the water in their village had a lot of fluoride. We (Sam and Jessica) flashed back to one of our classes in first-year dental school when we learned about the Colorado Brown Stain, not realizing at the time that this would come up later in our lives. To further elaborate, the Colorado Brown Stain got its name from Dr. Frederick McKay. He noticed many locals of Colorado Springs had brown stains on their teeth. After years of research, he discovered that the teeth were resistant to decay and that the water had an extremely high level of fluoride. This finding was a huge public health discovery for oral health.

The results of the interviews so far have led us to create an oral health presentation covering topics such as cause of decay, nutrition and oral health, oral health instruction, and steps to take if signs and symptoms of disease develop. During the interviews, many of the students complained of dental pain, and we were informed by the administration that the girls suffered from numerous “broken teeth”. The protocol that has been in place is to give girls pain control medications at the school dispensary, and if pain continues, to bring them to the local dentist for an extraction. In order to try to preserve teeth structure and function, we plan to first focus on prevention. We will be printing and binding the oral health presentation and will give a copy to the biology teacher, the nurse, and the life skills teacher. We plan to go through the presentation with the staff with the aim of incorporating it into their curriculum. We also will be holding a group presentation for the girls so we can go over any questions that they have.

Lastly, we will be selecting two dental health ambassadors for each dorm to receive personalized training with the purpose of supervising the girls’ brushing habits, access to toothbrushes and toothpaste, and answering dental questions. Thanks to the generosity of many U.S. dentists and school groups that did toothbrush drives, we are able to donate about 1,000 toothbrushes to SEGA to ensure that each girl will receive 4 toothbrushes over the next year. This will allow the girls to implement some of the oral health instructions we will be teaching them.

We look forward to the coming weeks and seeing the results of our intervention in action! We have really enjoyed working with the girls and all their beautiful smiles!