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UP, alumni push integration of oral health into universal healthcare

/ 02:02 AM February 14, 2015

Filipinos are well known for their warm smiles and hospitality. But in a nation of hearty smiles, its people are plagued with a lot of oral diseases, many of which aren’t being addressed.

There exists a two-way relationship between the mouth and the rest of the body, said UP College of Dentistry (UPCD) Dean Vic Medina II. “Whatever happens to the mouth can affect the entire body, not just the stomach.”

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But even if vital to overall health, oral health is generally a neglected aspect of a person’s wellbeing. In the country, 20 percent of six-year-olds have complained of toothache and infection but were never brought to the dentist, Medina said, adding that it is the same with the more than 87 million Filipinos suffering from tooth decay. UP Dental Alumni Association (UPDAA) president Dr. Jocelyn L. Tan, added that nine out of 10 Filipinos suffer from dental caries, and that the country has the second worst rate of decayed, missing and filled teeth in Asia.

The problem is further complicated by the lack of comprehensive government programs and agencies taking on oral health, Medina said. “The EHCP, or essential healthcare package, covers only 14 percent of public schools in the country, because the funds come from the LGUs. And LGUs are not equal—some have the funds, others don’t.”

To solve this, Medina said oral health should be integrated into primary healthcare. He added that there should also be an increase in financial support for dental health programs, upgrading of government facilities and equipment, and expansion of education focused on disease prevention and health promotion.

According to the FDI World Dental Federation, oral health is not only dental, it also includes the gums, hard and soft palate, linings of the mouth and throat, tongue, lips, salivary glands, chewing muscles, and upper and lower jaws. Good oral health enables people to speak, smile, kiss, breathe, whistle, smell, taste, drink, eat, bite, chew, swallow and express feelings. The oral cavity, in particular, plays a central role in basic nutrition and protection against microbial infections.

With this in mind, UPCD and UPDAA, in partnership with Oral-B, formed Smile Pilipinas, an initiative to “bring back the healthy smiles of Filipinos.” The program has five messages: First, smiles are fundamental to the Filipino’s identity; second, bring oral health within reach of all; third, everyone can help improve oral health in the country; fourth, Filipino parents should take care of the children’s teeth; and fifth, to encourage all to practice better oral care habits.

According to Medina, Smile Pilipinas would be the first to focus on the preventive aspect and the first to start young, with children aged 0-3. Smile Pilipinas, the launch of which coincided with the centennial celebration of UPCD, will focus on three areas, namely: advocacy, public good and fund-raising.

Smile Pilipinas has already organized the Unang Ngipin Patibayin, a partnership with the LGUs of Pateros and Pasig to provide education and preventive measures for children and parents, and SuperSmileCon2015, an oral wellness fair for kids with free dental consultations, dental varnish application, games, stage shows and oral health education.

For Medina, this initiative will be a good opportunity to lift the oral health of an entire generation. “We can break this cycle [of nonaction] and give Filipinos another reason to smile.” Tan added: “Oral health cannot be seen as separate from our total health and hygiene. If we all work together, we can bring oral health within reach of all.” Noli A. Ermitanio

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TAGS: health and wellness, oral diseases, smile pilipinas campaign, Universal healthcare
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