UW News

October 29, 2009

Early Childhood Oral Health program tackles dental disease locally and internationally

By Joel Berg
Pediatric Dentistry, School of Dentistry

In August of this year I was invited by the Peruvian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry to lecture and represent the Early Childhood Oral Health (ECOH) program abroad. From my meeting with the Cusco Society of Pediatric Dentistry, to my travels with the First Lady of Peru, my weeklong visit was the trip of a lifetime.

While there I had the chance to examine the mouths of many children and quickly realized the high prevalence of dental caries (the disease that causes cavities) in this population. As with the remarkable and awe-inspiring results achieved by the Incas at Machu Picchu, the Peruvian people’s systematic and patient approach to solving this health care crisis is one to be admired.

I was also inspired by their passion, and equally so by the results achieved by the First Lady and founder of Project Sembrando, Pilar Nores. I was first introduced to Senora Nores late last year when the UW Women’s Center hosted her for dinner and to discuss the Project, which is intended to provide food, medical care, education in self-care and self-esteem to the villages high in the Andes mountains. Discussion is under way with Project Sembrando to determine how ECOH can help alleviate dental disease in the children of the Andes Mountains in Peru.

With ECOH’s multidisciplinary health care team, including pediatricians, public health practitioners and pediatric dentists aligned in our thinking, we can help prevent what the surgeon general and others have identified as the most common chronic disease in children, not only in Peru, but around the globe: tooth decay.

Having now returned to the sea level oxygenation of Puget Sound, I can reflect with clarity upon the incredible week we had in what is called “Amazing Peru.” I am compelled to seek and find additional opportunities for collaboration between ECOH and programs such as Project Sembrando.

Dental disease in children is one of the few conditions that is just as severe, if not more so, in developed parts of the world as in developing parts of the world. This fact will enable the ECOH program to study and create solutions locally, assist in their delivery both locally, internationally, and on the global “stage.”

We have only begun to truly document the morbidity of tooth decay. It is clearly much worse than we know, both in the suffering of the child and in funds spent by health care systems around the world. What is most important is raising awareness of an entirely preventable but often devastating disease — at home and abroad.