Sparkle Brush puts smiles on faces

Volunteer students performing dental work on a pupil.
A University of the Western Cape dental programme is using tennis balls and bicycle handles to help special-needs children to take care of their teeth. 

The Sparkle Brush Programme – a collaboration between UWC and the University of KwaZulu-Natal – helps children who battle to grip a toothbrush or make the motion necessary to brush their teeth effectively, says Dr Magandhree Naidoo.
These are children with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

“By putting items such as the grip you find on a bicycle handle on the toothbrush, most of them can hold the toothbrush more firmly and in some cases, the children can then brush their own teeth.” 

The project, which includes a supervised brushing programme as well as hand-washing methods, was introduced last year in schools in Mitchell’s Plain, Diep River and Woodstock along with schools in KwaZulu-Natal. 

“We aim to give these children a better chance at improving and maintaining the best oral health they can achieve for themselves with an all-inclusive approach to health care. We also provide dietary advice and educational talks on risk factors such as smoking. This all forms part of the free six-monthly check-ups we provide.” 

Last August the programme received international recognition when it won the International Social Responsibility Award in Brisbane, Australia. 

“We are pleased with the success of the project. Dental care for children with special needs is a global challenge, and one of the problems is that oral health-care services are, at times, unaffordable or difficult to access. 

“With this project, we work with special-needs teachers, teaching assistants and nurses by educating them on how to maintain this programme, and we bring the solutions to the patients.” 

So far, the project has reached 551 special-needs children, 105 teachers, 56 teaching assistants, 45 nurses and eight therapists in both the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. 

Lucinda Shaw was involved in the programme during the course of her studies at UWC.  

“It was so heart-warming going to these schools and seeing the children’s faces when we are able to help them brush their teeth. Seeing them light up while doing something that we take for granted was really special, and I hope that more people can be helped this year.” 

Ms Shaw graduated from UWC as an oral hygienist and now works at a Stellenbosch practice.

“One of the ways we helped children to grip their toothbrush was to make small holes in tennis balls so that it can serve as an anchor or stopper on the toothbrush. Ideas like this can really help the programme and, of course, help more children.” 
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