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Dr. Bill Martin has seen some mouths that look as if they belong to children living in a Third World country.
Only he's not looking at teeth belonging to the indigenous Ecuadoreans he has treated on two trips to the mountains of that country.
These belong to residents of Levy County.
"We have teeth as bad as that of third world countries," Martin said. The Chiefland dentist ought to know. For the past two years he has led teams of students to join with two Rotary Clubs in Ecuador to head into the mountains to treat children and adults. "We are going up into the Andes and working with indigenous people who have no access to dental care," he said.
Often, he says, the only thing they can do is extract teeth. "As a dentist, I don't want to remove teeth," Martin said. "We've got to look at preventing stuff."
As a result, he's buying into the World Health Organization's push for preventative dentistry for children.
Martin, the immediate past president of the Chiefland Rotary, says he wants to add tooth-brushing to the twice-daily hand washing routine that students do in Chiefland schools.
Only question is whether Levy County Schools Superintendent Bob Hastings, a fellow Rotarian, will buy into the program.
"I think hygiene is something we need to teach and help even show children the proper ways," said Hastings, who is juggling budget cutbacks and possible layoffs. "To make that a criteria that teachers must take on in addition to other parenting skills, but I wouldn’t want to put the additional burden on teachers."
Hastings said it would be helpful "to put tooth brushes in schools with a health assistant" to demonstrate proper procedure and monitoring.
Martin has some experience in setting up such a program.
"While we were there (in Ecuador) we set up a preventive program in six schools," Martin said. The children come in every morning and wash their hands and brush their teeth. Before going leaving for the day they again wash their hands and brush their teeth.
Martin says this helps attack the two problems that beset children in underdeveloped areas: intestinal problems and tooth decay.
"We can provide medicine for the parasites," he said. And Rotary International can partner with local groups to provide clean water sources through its service programs.
But at a conference last year, Martin learned a different way of bringing dental health to children.
"They said maybe doing something more than once and walking away feeling good, we should do something more sustainable," Martin said.
And he is hoping the dental students from the University of Florida learn a few things they can try here at home.
The sustainable thing is prevention.
"It's ridiculous. We're focusing on putting out fires and we need to start focusing on the childhood population learning good habits. We need to try to educate them."
Martin said such a program would cost $5 per child per year. And when you consider tooth health is tied to overall health, it's a wise investment.
After that, he says, we need to educate American children on eating healthier foods. Martin said when he saw some of the Ecuadoreans with healthy teeth he asked what was the difference. "They said they haven't been Westernized. That is huge," Martin said.
"There is something worth trying here," he said. Martin said he is interested in getting fellow dental professionals to sign on to a program here. "I don't know what the answer is ... But we need to start thinking about it."