Case Studies


Dental care on the move

Mobile dental unit sets community health promotion standard

Chulalongkorn University has always been committed to community engagement. Its 2017-20 strategic plan aims to make the university fully accessible to the people.

To carry out its mission of University Social Responsibility (USR), the school has initiated various projects and activities aimed at promoting health and improving the quality of life for all communities.

One of the activities that the university has undertaken continuously for over 40 years is dispatching its mobile dental unit to remote areas of the country to offer dental services to residents free of charge.

It all started when the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej spoke to his personal dentist one day, saying that whenever he had dental trouble a dentist was always there to take care of him. But what about people in remote areas, he mused, did they have dentists to take care of them? In some provinces, he later learned, there were no dentists at all, and many people had poor oral health.

Initially, His Majesty bestowed a mobile dental truck, equipped with two dental chairs inside. A group of volunteer dentists from Chulalongkorn University would take turns every week to provide services to the people.

The unit has now grown into the country’s largest mobile dental unit. From a service provided only by volunteers from Chulalongkorn University, the royally bestowed unit has now expanded to involve five other universities in regional areas: Chiang Mai University, Prince of Songkla University, Naresuan University, Thammasat University and Srinakharinwirot University. This has allowed more people living in remote areas to access dental care; from only around 50 to 70 patients per day at the beginning, the unit can now serve up to 2,000 people per day.

Dental care services include tooth extraction, wisdom tooth extraction, routine cleaning, tooth filling and root canal therapy. The mobile unit received its funding initially from His Majesty’s personal fund.

“The royally bestowed dental unit made field visits to various districts [around the country] 20 times a year,” said Asst Prof Suchit Poolthong, DDS, M.Sc, PhD.

“Visits would be pre-announced so that we could serve a large number of people at each visit. This was in accordance with His Majesty’s wishes. His Majesty always stressed that the mobile service should visit areas that had no dentists or had inadequate dental service. And the service should be announced beforehand to make each visit worth the time and money.”

King Bhumibol also graciously gave advice that led to a number of innovations.

The Faculty of Dentistry of Chulalongkorn University subsequently established the Chulalongkorn University Dental Hospital Foundation to carry on the work of the mobile unit. It not only provides wider access to care for disadvantaged people and residents of remote communities, but has also introduced community participation in the process to ensure good oral health.

Apart from providing dental care, students work with local administration organizations to develop health policies and improve rules to create an environment conducive to good health.

In Bangkok schools, dentistry students and teachers organize teeth-brushing activities and ensure snacks and drinks are of the low-sugar variety. Similar activities take place in provinces outside the capital.

In child development centers, no milk bottles and snacks with high sugar content are allowed; only fruits are offered. Lunch menus have been adjusted to make meals more nutritious. Children learn how to brush their teeth through songs. Wash basins have been renovated or new ones built with funding from local administration organizations.

Schools ensure that adequate facilities are available for students to brush their teeth. Teachers brush their teeth together with the students, serving as role models.

In villages, residents have agreed to urge convenience stores to join in a program to sell low-sugar snacks and drinks as well as other goods meant as alms for monks. Village health volunteers have also been assigned to help young children in their designated areas to brush their teeth before bedtime.

In factories and public organizations, drinks on sale are separated by their sugar content. Employees are encouraged to consume the low-sugar varieties, use less sugar in their food and drinks, as well as reduce their alcohol consumption. Participants have agreed to cut down on consumption of alcohol as well as three-in-one instant coffee, which tends to contain high levels of sugar and cream, at all meetings.

In schools for the elderly, tooth brushing is incorporated into daily programs, and all drinks are of the low-sugar variety.

An assessment carried out in 2014 of project operations for the preceding six years concluded that it had been very successful.

At Wat Hua Lamphong School in Bangkok, for example, the incidence of primary students having dental caries and bacterial plaque was found to be reduced by half.

In the provinces, residents in communities served by the project expressed their satisfaction as well. Furthermore, local dentists have benefited from gaining new knowledge and learning about health promotion through social engagement.

A substantial knowledge base has been accumulated during 14 years of project activities in more than 200 field sites. As a result, the project’s approach to promoting health has been acknowledged by many public dental health personnel in the provinces.

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