Children will now be able to receive specialised dental care at the Paediatric and Special Needs Dental Care Unit launched at the Tygerberg Oral Health Centre on Friday.
The unit, based at Tygerberg Hospital, is the first of its kind in South Africa and is set to change the landscape of paediatric dental care in the country by offering dedicated, specialised, and child-friendly services, according to Dr Nicoline Potgieter, president of the South African Association of Paediatric Dentistry and course coordinator for the Masters programme in paediatric dentistry at UWC.
Special needs in dentistry refers to any child with either a physical, mental or a medical specific condition, which includes chronic illness such as diabetes and haemophilia as well as neurological conditions such as epilepsy, autism and cerebral palsy, says Dr Potgieter.
The project, which is scheduled for full implementation by the end of October, is a collaboration by UWC’s department of paediatric dentistry, the Rotary Club, and the provincial government.
Dalene Swart, president of the Rotary Club of Bellville, said: “The establishment of a dedicated paediatric dentistry surgery unit, equipped with the latest materials and state-of-the-art equipment, not only enhances service quality but also serves as an invaluable training ground for postgraduate students.”The R1.2 million project received cash contributions from the Rotary Club of Bellville, the Rotary Foundation and six other Rotary Clubs from America, the UK, and Canada.
Dr Potgieter said oral health directly impacted general health and, in turn, quality of life.”It is our responsibility to provide the basic health care needs of our children,” she said.“The technological advances incorporated into the unit, support minimally invasive techniques and preventative dentistry, and the environment is focused on making the dental visit more pleasant for the child.”
Previously specialised dental procedures were performed in the general paediatric dentistry unit.
“Hopefully this is the first of many dedicated paediatric and special needs units across South Africa,” Dr Potgieter said.
“It’s important for children to establish a good relationship with their dentists because the more we invest in the oral health of kids the less burden of disease we will have when they become adults.
“If you establish good oral hygiene and good oral health as a kid you’ll probably take that with you growing up as an adult and that is the goal.”
As part of the paediatric dentistry course, students are trained to treat specialised dental procedures, and they learn about behavioural management such as how to communicate with children.
“A lot of dentists don’t generally like treating kids so what then happens to the children is that treatment just gets deferred. They don’t necessarily get referred to someone,” Dr Potgieter said.
“The kids end up without the treatment because people are too scared to actually treat them. So now with establishing this type of unit and the specialists, general dentists who don’t feel comfortable treating a certain condition or kid can refer them to a specialist.”
Ms Swart said the project would be rolled out in Mitchell’s Plain soon.
“At this stage, residents of the Mitchell’s Plain area need to travel to Tygerberg to get the services they deserve. So we’ve already had commitments from existing donors and partners to contribute towards what we call phase 2. So we are busy planning and duplicating what we’ve done here in Mitchell’s Plain to make access to dental care convenient,” she said.
“Because this is a smaller space and also closer to where we are, the focus was to upgrade and establish this clinic here first, but you can’t just do it in one area if you know there’s a bigger need in a community that needs it far more.”