Communication has long been a difficult task in educating the ethnic minorities about oral health. Led by Dr Hamdi Hamama, a group of scholars from heterogeneous cultural backgrounds held an unprecedented symposium. It cast away the ethnic minorities’ language barrier and oral health illiteracy. Communication Takes Two to Tango
The team noticed that their biggest advantage is diversity. They speak seven languages, ranging from English, Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Malay, Urdu to Hindi. Despite their different cultural backgrounds, they came together to pass on their knowledge to their people. Last year, they organized a half-day interactive program at Islamic Dharwood Pau Memorial Primary School for 54 ethnic minority students and parents. They thought it was a great idea to educate their people in their own languages. Speaking in their mother tongues, the participants felt like home-coming and more relaxed to talk with someone who shared the same native language. Hence, they were more willing to speak without embarrassment.
“They asked questions that they couldn’t ask before. Some of them had misconceptions like ‘scaling hurts’, but they were not comfortable to ask the question in front of a dentist speaking an unfamiliar language.” Dr Arbrar Khawaja noted, “They actually got a lot of questions. Now after attending our symposium, they know who they should go to if they have oral health problems.”
The project has broken the boundaries of traditional oral health education in the ethnic community. Over an hour was allocated from the symposium for parallel discussion in different languages. The participants were divided into eight groups, each led by a team member of respective language to walk them through the proper oral health practices.
“Parents can follow the guidelines and act as a role model for their children. They can teach their children and show them how to do it at home,” said Dr. Nadeem. The symposium created a significant opportunity for the parents to experience hands-on learning, ask whatever they want and clarify any misunderstandings in their own language. Dr Nadeem remarked, “It is a two-way communication.” He acknowledged the importance of encouraging knowledge exchange through dyadic communication, as a means to engage the parents in fostering positive intergenerational influences on oral health. However, most community projects are not aware of this. He added, “The symposium allowed us to address their concerns directly so they could have a better understanding on primary care.”
Tailor-made Educational Materials
The team presented the information in an attractive and direct way so that the children can easily understand. “The lectures are tailor-made for the kids. Dr. Hamama added some cartoons to his presentation slides to draw the students’ attention and interests.” Dr Qianfeng Li explained, “Some of us have experiences in serving young students, which made them more familiar with how to get along with our service target.”
The team has also designed a booklet “A Guide to Happy and Healthy Teeth” in seven languages, and circulated the copies among the ethnic minorities. The booklet contains some essential tips to maintain good oral hygiene. Besides the basic knowledge of brushing teeth gently and regularly, the booklet also explains the rationales behind the oral health practices, for instance, “damaged toothbrush cannot clean our teeth properly”. Apart from the booklets, they have put a lot of efforts in preparing different educational materials for the symposium. Participants could take away the brochure, kit and coloring book, bringing the knowledge and influences to their families, and to their relatives. This enables the team to benefit the community indirectly, allowing more people to enjoy their fruits of labor.
In One Box
Most of the community projects focus on pediatric dentistry, whereas the team took a different leap in oral health education. From periodontology to orthodontic dentistry, they disseminated their professional knowledge into different seminars, generously sharing their expertise to the community. The symposium covered some unfamiliar topics such as “Send your kids to see an orthodontist early”.We have been told to brush our teeth regularly and avoid excess sugary food, but we have very little knowledge about orthodontist – when and whether we need braces. Both students and parents were eager to know more about this topic. “Some parents even came to ask me whether they should consult an orthodontist too.” Professor Li exclaimed in delight over the unexpected response from the participants.The symposium tackled the needs of the participants. They were grateful and seized the chance to enrich their knowledge on dental health. “The school called us twice and asked us to hold this program again,” Dr. Hamama said joyfully. They are very pleased with the outcomes and cannot wait to have a second round.