In the MIMAROPA region, the dental bus is a big deal. More than just providing dental services, it symbolizes that residents are cared for and it is responsible for changing a people’s mindset about oral health care.

Its presence has helped changed an attitude towards dental care among the people of the five provinces that make up the region – Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.

Dr Maria Gracia Gabriel, rural dentist, tells MIMS that in the past when people saw the dental bus approaching, they would ask if tooth extraction services were available. That was their concept about dental care.

Today, the first thing they ask when seeing the dental bus is if dental filling and cleaning services are available, Dr Gabriel, the MIMAROPA oral health programme manager, related.

Thus, her elation is understandable with the change in mindset so people are now more attuned to prevention rather than treatment. “We saw that awareness is changing,” she said.

And because she subscribes to the belief that dental health care is an individual’s responsibility, the changing awareness is most welcome.

Asked what led to the change in attitude, Dr Gabriel pointed out two factors: the high cost of treatment services and improved physical appearance.

After undergoing procedures with better oral health as a result, people “will take care of their teeth because they know how expensive these oral procedures are,“ Dr Gabriel explained.

Oral prophylaxis costs alone range from Php 500 to Php1,000. “If you give it to them for free, they will appreciate it because they know how much they saved,” she added.

At present, 15 dental buses serve the region – six of them in Romblon. These provide free oral health services regularly. These days, adult residents in the communities associate the buses with free and preventive oral health care.

Children, however, are more challenging for dentists when it comes to the matter of oral health. She tells MIMS that while children may agree when dentists give lectures on dental care, these do not necessarily translate to habits.

To address the situation, the regional health office has initiated a dental health programme that focuses on children below six years of age.

The goal is to get young children into the habit of brushing their teeth every day. This is done by monitoring kids in cooperation with service workers from the local social welfare office, and all activities are conducted in a child development center.

Dr. Gabriel shared that in the past, residents thought it was more convenient to simply lose all permanent teeth than get dentures because the perception was managing these was easier. She conceded there were certain cases when resorting to dentures was the only choice.

But eventually, people realized the hassles that came with maintaining dentures. The cheeks, for instance, would appear gaunt thus making an individual’s face appear much older.

Other problems associated with wearing dentures include gum and mouth irritations, moving dentures, and difficulties when chewing or speaking.

There is still much Dr Gabriel and her team want to accomplish in terms of improving oral health care services in the region. So far, the region has already logged numerous dental care activities, with more than 70 alone for 2017 alone. Dr Gabriel is hopeful she will be busier next year.

Beyond initiating programmes, the rural dentist is looking forward for these to be replicated not just in the region but around the country. MIMS

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