What we learn from our members: dental health and its link to poverty and education

Children taking part in the Live Smart project, in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Credit: Dental Wellness Trust.

I am very lucky. My job entails working closely with members of The Circle. And this means that I am constantly learning about their areas of expertise and how they apply them to further gender equality.

They are also women who appear to exceed the limitations of time, which they manage to give so generously to empowering women and girls, in addition to the significant commitments of their professional and personal lives.

On 4 and 5 November I had the pleasure of experiencing a night and day in the world of one of our newest members, Dr Linda Greenwall. Linda is a dentist on the commendable mission to save kids’ teeth. She founded the Dental Wellness Trust in 2011, fulfilling a life goal of setting up a dental health charity for those in need. It was the start of an incredible journey that now reaches 5,000 children enrolled in school programmes and a further 2,000 who are enrolled in the LiveSmart Evening Health Programme, run by mothers in the community of Khayelitsha, South Africa. Khayelitsha is the same township where the Nonceba women shelter is based, which The Circle supports. And for those of you who joined us at the launch of this project on South African Women’s Day, on 8 August, you’ll remember Linda as our exceptional guest speaker of the night.

I am not a dentist. In fact, as I sat taking in all the information about children’s dental wellbeing, I was acutely aware that I hadn’t been to the dentist for over five years. I also had an Oprah Winfrey moment of gratitude for the education and the significant time and financial investment my parents made to ensure my dental health was the best that it could be.

So, what does a general member of the public with a professional interest in empowering women and girls take away from the wealth of knowledge presented by some of the best industry experts at the Saving Kids Teeth 2017 conference?

Way more that I can squeeze into this blog post! So, I am going to tell you about three fundamental things:

1. Tooth decay

Tooth decay is preventable. Wholly and completely preventable. Prevention is the only real solution to avoid pain, expensive procedures and a multitude of ripple effects that will impact on a child’s health, wellbeing and development from tooth to toe, body and mind.

Give a child a tooth brush and teach them how to use it and not only do you prevent dental issues, you also ensure children aren’t going to miss school because of unnecessary toothache, aren’t going to be bullied or experience low self-esteem because of the appearance of their teeth. It also won’t inevitably lead to painful, expensive procedures in the future.

There are many obstacles that stand in the way of girls accessing an education, which you can find out more about in our project supporting Educate Girls, India. So, it’s even more important to do what we can to avoid adding more obstacles to that list, especially if they are preventable!

2. Let’s talk about sugar

There is a clear, undeniable link between tooth decay, obesity and poverty in children. All of the speakers, talking from very different professional standpoints, clearly identified the same cause — sugar.

I’ll repeat that — despite their different focus points and experiences treating children with a multitude of different issues, they all identified sugar as the problem. Financial limitations, convenience of cheap products (generally high in sugar) and a lack of education about dental hygiene are the main reasons for the severe lack of dental wellbeing in children globally. In areas of poverty where addiction to sugar is high (because it is accessible, affordable, tasty, considered a treat or a reward, and easily shipped from western countries) tooth decay is much higher.

It felt very forward-thinking to hear the connections being made between dental decay and obesity in children. Encouraging approaches to integrated health are increasing our knowledge of how sugar affects the teeth and the gut, two crucial parts of the digestive system that aren’t traditionally considered together. And it seems obvious from the outside looking in that more integrated healthcare discussions need to be happening across specialisations to ensure a child’s wellbeing.

In my opinion, there is a third prong missing in this triangle, and that is mental wellbeing. Both Dr Sandra White and Prof Terence Stephenson spoke about a lack of confidence and the likelihood of bullying in children who are living with tooth decay and obesity. Sugar is the common enemy, regardless of the side of the health sector from which the story is being told.

Sugar is also the wolf in sheep’s clothing acting as the comforter and temporary solution to anxiety, stress and depression. The little comfort and happiness craved when a child has low confidence is being bullied. I think it would be interesting to bring in a mental health specialist to the table who specialises in understanding how living in poverty, experiencing pain and being bullied all contribute to how and why we make the choices we do, so that we can educate children and their parents to make good choices about their teeth and their food. And, simultaneously, raise the bar on what food is made available and why, for reasons pertaining to health instead of profit.

It is important to talk about issues that negatively impact children. Sugar is a common enemy and we need to be talking about how bad it is for children’s teeth, childhood obesity and the options available to those living below the poverty line globally.

3. Spit, don’t rinse

Finally, I learnt lots of science about fluoride and that water and fluoride don’t mix. The formula for healthy teeth is more fluoride and less sugar. So, remember — SPIT, DON’T RINSE!

Together Linda and I are exploring how our two worlds can meet to further empower women and girls, so if you have a connection to the dental sector, please contact us, sign up as a member if you haven’t already and watch this space in 2018!

 

 

 

@PetaBB
Peta Barrett is a member of The Circle since 2016 and our Relationship Manager since 2017.


Six ways in which educating girls benefits their wider community

The Circle member and volunteer Shannon Hodge looks at how educating girls can help tackle everything from child marriage to world poverty

Today, more than 263 million children are out of school, with 202 million of those of secondary school age. 130 million of them are girls. And despite all the efforts and progress made in previous years, more girls are still denied an education than boys — with 15 million girls of primary-school age estimated to never set foot in a classroom.

Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth — but it also improves children’s and women’s survival rates and health, delays child marriage and early pregnancies, empowers women both in the home and the workplace, and helps tackle climate change.

In proposed target 4.1 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN said: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”, meaning that each of the 263 million children currently out of education will be entitled to twelve years of quality, fee-free primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education by 2030.

Achieving universal access to those twelve years of education is both a matter of human rights and a huge investment in the overall development and economic growth of the world. Here are just a few of the ways in which unlocking the potential of millions of girls can have a wider impact…

1. Preventing child marriage and early pregnancy

An estimated 15 million girls a year are married before they are eighteen. Many are forced to marry by their families in exchange for a dowry — which is seen as a way of alleviating poverty within the family. Once married, many girls wanting to continue their education are often denied this right, due to traditional roles they are expected to play in the home, such as childbearing and cleaning.

Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. And the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of eighteen and have children during her teenage years.

It also gives girls the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including when, and whom, they will marry.

With twelve years of quality education, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children — compared to those who have little or no education. Estimates show that if all girls had access to secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%.

2. Preventing female genital mutilation

Over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) — a form of gender-based violence where parts or all of the external female genitalia are removed or injured for no medical reason.

Education is integral to any strategy to reduce FGM, as it can play a key role in changing individual and societal views.

In fact, data shows that girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to be in favour of the existence of FGM — for example, in Kenya, approximately 38% of women and girls with no education support the continuation of the practice, in comparison to approximately 6% of women and girls with secondary or higher education.

3. Building more stable communities

Education builds resilience, enabling countries to recover from conflict faster once peace is established. In fact, inclusive, quality education can even help prevent conflict in the first place through lessons on problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking.

And whilst primary education is vital to girls, it’s secondary education that can be transformative. In certain countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict.

4. Tackling climate change

Following on from the fact that education can create more stable communities, research also suggests that girls’ education reduces a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a matter of fact, education is one of the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

In 47 countries covered by the 2005-2008 World Values Survey, the higher a girl’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore, in the later 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.

5. Strengthens economies and advances the fight to end poverty

Research in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that level of education has a “substantial impact on employment prospects”.

On average, across these countries, 74% of those with the proposed twelve years of education up to upper secondary are employed, as opposed to 56% of those without an upper secondary education.

Generally, secondary school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than early school leavers, contributing to the growth of the national economy through full-time employment and tax.

And if all children in low-income countries completed upper secondary education by 2030, per capita income would increase by 75% by 2050 and advance the fight to eliminate poverty by ten years.

6. Better health, longer lives

Girls’ education has wide-ranging and transformative health benefits, which can be passed on through generations. Every additional year of school a girl completes cuts rates of infant mortality — the death of children under one year — by five to ten per cent. And if all girls received the proposed twelve years of fee-free, quality education, the frequency of early births would drop by 59% and child deaths would decrease by 49%.

Furthermore, women with post-primary education are also better able to protect both themselves and their families against other health risks. For example, they are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about the risk of HIV and AIDS and know how to practice safer sex and prevent infection. Educated mothers are also more likely to vaccinate their children.

These are just some of the positive impacts that educating girls can have on both girls and their communities, and here at The Circle we believe that girls are the untapped solution to many of the world’s problems. To help improve the world, we must educate girls.

That’s why we work with Educate Girls to address issues facing young girls in India.

An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and the situation is worse in rural areas of Rajasthan, where girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52%, the lowest in the country, and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.

The Circle supports Educate Girls in increasing girls’ enrolment and retention rates and improving the quality of education in India with the use of Creating Learning and Teaching kits. You can read more about the project or  donate on our website.

“We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.” — Education activist Malala Yousafzai, speech to Canadian Parliament, 2017.

@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.