Oral Health Custodians Obtain Dentistry PhDs
Equal access to quality oral health services for South Africa’s young and old was high on the agenda of two newly graduated PhDs.
Supervised by Dr Shenuka Singh, UKZN’s Dentistry Academic Leader, Dr Sunitha Dookie and Dr Moganavelli Reddy graduated with doctorates in Dentistry after completing critical studies informing the country’s policies and implementation.
Dookie analysed the impact KwaZulu-Natal’s primary health care philosophy has on district oral health service delivery and found distinctive gaps between policy and implementation.
‘The primary health care philosophy has not translated into improved efficiency, effectiveness and equity of oral health service delivery,’ said Dookie. ‘Nor has it reduced the oral disease burden in the region. Oral health service delivery is underpinned by a clear primary health care philosophy but it has not translated into practice as inequities still persist,’ she said.
Statistical data from the study revealed that the oral health care system has not impacted on dental caries levels, the major oral disease in this region. ‘The current delivery of oral health services in KwaZulu-Natal is poor. Reasons cited for this include the recurring theme of a lack of financial, human, and material resources as well as equipment, the structure of the system itself and deficiencies between policy formulation and putting that into practice. All these factors have also resulted in inefficient and ineffective delivery of services.’
Reddy conducted a three-phase study systematically assessing the viability of including oral health promotion at 23 health-promoting schools in the 11 districts of KwaZulu-Natal and to establish whether this approach would be an appropriate mechanism for school-based oral health service delivery.
The study, under peer-review at graduation and already published in two journal articles, developed a framework providing a systematic and negotiated approach for the planning, implementation and review of the oral health promotion intervention based on the needs of six-year-old learners at the identified schools.
‘The strength of this framework was underpinned in its multi-level approach to ensure quality of oral health care delivery. The limitations of this framework were that it was not tested for effectiveness to bring about behaviour change as this was a long-term goal,’ Reddy explained.
Reddy said there was a need for multiple stakeholder involvement in policy monitoring with specific strategies for implementation and evaluation of oral health promotion activities. ‘There is also a need to ensure stakeholder involvement in the development of oral health learning material at school level.’ More research needs to be done to explore the mechanism to support and address inequity in oral health promotion related service delivery at schools and to test the adaptability of the framework in other health related settings both provincially and nationally, she advised.
Dookie and Reddy said they were grateful to their families and supervisor for unyielding support during their doctoral journey.
Singh said: ‘Both graduates have worked consistently hard and are excellent role-models for other students embarking on postgraduate studies.’