Letters & Opinion

Dental Hygiene Programme: Government Brings Health Care to the Elderly

Sylvestre Phillip
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is now piloting a Dental Hygiene Programme which is intended to bring Health Care to the Elderly in Homes in St. Lucia. And, as the Administrator of the St. Lucy’s Home and an Adult Educator by training, I give the programme a thumbs-up.

It is my wish that such a programme be made available to the Elderly, at all Wellness Centres in St. Lucia.

Some 60 years ago, persons from all areas in Castries had to go to the Castries Health Centre for Dental Services. Even when Wellness Centres were built in the various communities in St. Lucia, not all of them provided a dental service to the communities.

I have used 60 years since as this is as far as I can remember; as early as 10 years old, having to leave Marchand and go to the Castries Health Centre for dental services. Now you could well imagine the amount of people who gathered at the Health Centre for that service. There was an extremely long wait before for the service could be provided on any given day.

There was not a special service for the elderly. Which meant that they had to find their way like anybody else. And to queue the line as well.

But things are now changing for the better. We now have Dental Health Care being provided by many more Wellness Centres around St. Lucia.

But what is particularly heart-warming, is the fact that the Government of St. Lucia, through the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is ensuring that our older folks in St. Lucia receive proper health services or care.

That is a true manifestation of “Putting People First”.

A high-powered team from the Dental Unit of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs has put together a Dental Hygiene team that moves from Home to Home to provide a Dental Hygiene service, which includes cleaning of teeth and gums, extraction, and  recommending medication where necessary.

Our Elderly folks are having it good! The Ministry is actually bringing the service to our elderly folks. At St. Lucy’s Home, we actually had to take our residents to the La Clery Wellness Centre for that service. But this is no more. And I can tell you, the Dental Hygienist, her assistant and Chief Dental Officer who provided support did a wonderful job. Something that the residents were all happy about.

Even the members of staff of the St. Lucy’s Home were able to access the service. Great Job Team!

It is absolutely essential that people take care of their gums and teeth.

Very few of us actually know just how important that good oral health is on our overall health. The mouth is the ultimate gateway into our body, so any bacteria from our mouth can travel to the other parts of our body and put us at risk for other conditions and diseases. Some of those risks are: Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke; Risk of suffering from Dementia, Respiratory Conditions; Risk of Diabetes; Risk of Cancer. Indeed, there are many other diseases and conditions that could occur if we have poor dental hygiene.

Individuals who suffer from periodontal diseases are twice as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease and narrowing of the arteries that is caused by plaque and bacteria that enters the body through the gums.

Now if one has poor oral hygiene and it causes you to suffer from tooth loss, this could lead to potential loss of memory which can lead to dementia. There are substances which are inflammatory in nature that can cause part of your brain to die. Yes indeed, die!

Again, if one suffers from periodontal disease, bacteria has the potential to travel into your bloodstream and into your lungs where it can have a direct impact on your respiratory system. It puts us at a greater risk of suffering from acute bronchitis or chronic pneumonia.

Indeed, research has shown that about 95% of persons with Diabetes, also have some form of periodontal disease or loss of teeth.

Now someone who suffers from diabetes, are more likely to contract certain infections.

Many experts in dentistry have indicated that individuals with periodontal disease are at risk of being diagnose with cancer.

As it turns out, men who suffer from gum disease are almost 50% more likely to be diagnose with kidney cancer or cancer of the pancreas. They are also 30% likely to be diagnosed with cancer within the blood. That’s a great reason to practice good dental hygiene.

Knowing my menfolk very well, they generally have a care-free attitude to health care. I can reveal that my dad died as a result of cancer. I can’t ever remember him going to the doctor except when he was already very close to going back to his ‘Maker’. I really would like to research the reasons why men generally do not go to see a doctor. When I do, I will let you know the outcome.

What I am happy about is the fact that the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is ensuring that the older folks receive proper dental hygiene care.

Soon, I expect the programme to be expanded to include all school children in the various districts in St. Lucia.

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