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Keeping the tooth fairy away

“What is there to be scared of? I love seeing those young dentists. I can’t wait for my next dental check-up,” exclaimed Adeeva Chan, a five-year-old student at the Christian Alliance Louey Choy Kwan Lok Kindergarten. Unusually for a child perhaps, Adeeva has a soft spot for dentists.

Since she was 3, Adeeva has been receiving regular dental check-ups at her kindergarten. “The dentist and my mum told me to brush my teeth every day, not to eat sweets and go easy on snacks,” she said with a big grin, showing a set of healthy teeth. As part of the Jockey Club Children Oral Health Project, dentists from the Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) visit Adeeva’s kindergarten every year to give free dental check-ups to students and organise talks for their parents. Adeeva gets a sticker as a reward each time she completes a successful check-up. Meanwhile, the dentists would provide individual consultation for children with severe tooth decay.

Tooth decay is common among children. Community-wide oral health surveys conducted by the Department of Health in 2001 and 2011 respectively showed that more than half of all five-year-olds in Hong Kong had tooth decay, 90% of whom were untreated. This is the context for the Jockey Club Children Oral Health Project, which was launched by the Faculty of Dentistry at HKU with funding support from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. In the 2019/2020 school year, the Faculty of Dentistry of HKU ran a pilot project for 137 kindergartens, before extending it to all kindergartens in Hong Kong the following year, providing dental check-ups for over 44,000 children. In addition, 8,700 parents and 3,000 kindergarten staff have taken part in a series of oral health education activities in the project.

Shum Ching Man, deputy headmistress of Christian Alliance Louey Choy Kwan Lok Kindergarten, said children feel safer seeing a dentist in a setting that they are familiar with. The Jockey Club Children Oral Health Project has not only taught students and parents more about oral health but helped them see dental care as a positive thing from a small age, she added. According to a survey conducted for the project, parents who received its services during the 2019/2020 school year gave a satisfaction rate of more than 97%, while all participating schools were satisfied or very satisfied with the project overall.

Did you know?

Dentists advise parents to start caring for their children's teeth at an early age, with regular cleaning of the gums important even before those tiny teeth are visible. Infants can pay their first visit to the dentist six months after their first tooth erupts, followed by a routine check-up every year.

Dentists also say it is a myth that a child's first teeth are not as important as the permanent ones. Failure to maintain a line of strong, healthy first teeth can adversely affect the development and position of the permanent teeth. Early examination and treatment is thus vital if a child's first teeth decay.