All Deserve a Brighter Smile

We brush our teeth every day, don’t we? But do you believe that there are some people in Hong Kong who aren’t aware of the importance of daily tooth-brushing? “Their educational level limits their understanding on the concept of oral health. They don’t know what dental cavities are, and don’t have the habit of brushing their teeth every day. That’s quite shocking,” said the team leader Samantha Chu. “Cheerful Smiles Outreach Program”

The number of South Asian ethnic minorities in Hong Kong has been increasing in recent years. As new immigrants, many South Asians are not familiar with the oral health services available in Hong Kong. Led by Professor Lo Chin Man Edward and his students, the Cheerful Smiles Outreach Program aimed to help and serve the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. “We named this project Cheerful Smiles Outreach Program because we want to see the brightest smile and healthy teeth on every person’s face,” said one of the team members Angel, “Besides the locals, the South Asian ethnic minorities also deserve a pretty smile.” 

The team organized a two-day event in January 2017. There were two sections for children and adults respectively on both days. They served 46 children and 46 parents in total. For the adults’ section, the team held parents’ talks on the first day and distributed quizzes on oral health knowledge, provided individual report on each children’s oral health status, and small group discussion on dental problems. For the children’s program, the team showed them a tooth brushing demo video, set up checkup stations with fluoride application and the snack stations on dietary habits and choices.

Learning from Experience

The team conducted a similar project last year and gained experiences in handling a lot of patients at a time. “We are more confident and experienced this year. By dividing ourselves into three groups this year, it enabled us to perform oral check-ups more efficiently,” said Katelyn. In the planning stage, the team anticipated some possible challenges that they might face when carrying out dental check-ups for children. The children might refuse to cooperate and have some disrupting behaviors, such as crying and kicking. Therefore, they prepared some activities, such as color painting, origami folding, and stickers to reduce their fear of oral check-ups and build up trust with them.

New Challenge in the Program

“It’s really out of our expectation. We overlooked the cultural difference between South Asian Ethnic minorities and the local Chinese,” said another team member Ken. On the first day, the team discovered a huge difference in dietary habits when they showed the children food cards. They found out that in contrast to the local Chinese diet, the South Asians usually have starchy vegetables such as yam, potato, cassava, plantain and cereals like rice, corn and wheat. The team also encountered another challenge — the language barrier. Most participants understood basic English and did not speak Cantonese. “We would say ‘the tooth is broken’, ‘you have broken teeth’ or ‘tooth decay’ when we told them that they had the dental cavities,” said one of the team members Grace.

Due to the limited knowledge of South Asian minorities, both parents and children had no idea about the importance of having regular dental checkups and maintaining good oral health. Through the Cheerful Smiles Outreach Program, the team hoped to raise the South Asian minorities’ awareness and knowledge of oral healthcare.

Mentors’ Support

“It was an eye-opening experience as we’ve all learnt more about the ethnic groups in our community,” said Samantha. “We are thankful to our supervisors Professor Lo Chin Man Edward and Professor Colman McGrath for assisting in our project implementation. Without their support, this project would not be a success.”