I still recall our elementary school in India requiring that our nails be trim and clean, hair neatly tied in white ribbons and shoes polished to a gleam. We would have daily inspections. In dental college I learned how oral health affected our overall well-being and how much more important oral hygiene screening would have been, especially when compared to well-polished shoes!
In dental college, Community Dentistry class gave us an opportunity to work in rural villages. It was shocking how many kids with swollen faces I came across in a single day. I remember examining a four-year-old girl. She had a piece of dead bone in her mouth that had partially separated from her jaw (also known as sequestrum). As a young student, I was unsure of the diagnosis. Even after all these years, I remember rushing to my professor saying, “You’ve got to see this”. He was able to tell that an untreated tooth infection had resulted in a jaw infection, causing a part of the bone “to die”. Although we were able to treat the child, what bothered me was that her parents had taken their daughter to a priest for spiritual treatment instead of a dentist.
It has almost been 20 years since that incident and to this day, it remains a vivid memory to me. I have never been able to shrug away the fact that a little education about dental health will go a long way. Years of practice since then have left no doubt in my mind that oral health education is severely lacking even in a country as advanced as the United States. Teeth are directly connected to our body and any infection goes straight into the blood. If a child is diabetic or has heart problems, it is even more important that they keep their teeth clean. Dental infections for them especially, could result in serious complications.
After dental college, I moved to United States. Of course, USA was way advanced when it came to dentistry. I had the best technology, instruments and top-of-the-line materials to work with. I was in dental heaven and then I came face-to-face with Nursing Bottle Syndrome (NBS). How could a country like USA have problems as preventable as NBS, I wondered! Why didn’t pediatricians and dentists collaborate to educate parents? Day after day, I treated toddlers who faced pain and extensive treatment for NBS. “Is my job only to fix teeth once the damage has been done? Is that all I’ve signed up for?” were questions that haunted me.
Britney Spears Has it Good
I couldn’t play the passive onlooker any longer. In an effort to educate the world, I wrote to what now seems like every single magazine and newspaper I had heard of. I was disappointed to learn that for the commercial media, Britney Spears’ haircut was apparently more important than educating parents. Undeterred, I kept pitching local papers and parents newsletters until I succeeded. Huffington Post, Greater Kashmir, Daily O, Mother and Child Magazine. and many other media outlets published my articles on that topic.
Adults however, weren’t my only audience. I felt compelled, almost obsessive about reaching out to children. How could I get kids to manage their own dental care? The question tossed and turned in my head and eventually resulted in a series of children’s books, my foray as a writer. I wrote Sam and the Sugar Bug, Leila and the Tooth Fairy and Leila’s First Visit to the Dentist. Later, I added narration and sound effects to Sam and the Sugar Bug and released it in iBooks. It makes my day to see that Sam and the Sugar Bug has four times more reviews than Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. All three titles continue to be the only books to educate children about the importance of good oral health in a fun and engaging manner, especially kids with special needs. I recently wrote another book, Funny Teeth and Bunny Ears to help children quit thumb sucking. Today, all my books are available on Amazon.com, Android and Sam and the Sugar Bug is also available in iBooks.
Truth be told, I could have never imagined that my books would find their way into the National Resource List for Kids with Special Needs or that I would be featured on Austim Live. To this day, whenever I hear from parents of kids with Special Needs about the difference the books have made, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I didn’t stop at wringing my hands in despair but that I did something about the issue. In the process, I unknowingly created a tool for children who most needed it. Professionally, I feel complete. Being a dentist wasn’t enough for me. The impact I make as an oral health educator makes me feel truly accomplished.
I honestly believe that a little education about dental care has the potential to prevent a host of diseases. If manufacturers of dental care products spent half the money on education that they do on advertising or if government invested half as much time and money on educating our patients, as we do on treatment, we will have a new beginning.
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