02 March 2018

Danish Professor Behind Effort to Improve Dental Health in Palestine

The University of Copenhagen will be helping the ministry of health in Palestine improve the dental health of Palestinian children. A new research report outlines the problem and concludes that the country is lagging seriously behind when it comes to effective preventive dental care. 

Photo: Dr. Lamis Abuhaloob

Far too many Palestinian schoolchildren suffer from untreated caries. The disease, also known as cavities, can cause toothache and in general has a significant effect on the children’s quality of life and performance in school.

A team consisting of Professor Emeritus Poul Erik Petersen from the Department of Odontology at the University of Copenhagen and Dr Lamis Abuhaloob from the Palestinian ministry of health is about to change that. They are currently working on a project to develop and improve the existing school health programme ensuring that it focuses on health promotion and preventing dental problems. In addition, their research will provide knowledge and experience for the international school health programme under the World Health Organization.

’The current school health programme was introduced in 1994, but has not worked very well. The programme has been unable to perform tasks regarding treatments, and activities have not focused sufficiently on prevention and health promotion. Therefore, health problems continue to emerge. Now we will develop a new method for the school health project to ensure that the control effort and prevention of dental diseases increase’, Poul Erik Petersen explains.

He adds that the research will also provide insight into how countries with severe social inequality and age-long political conflict may organise the effort to improve the health of children.

The Past as a Guide to the Future
In general, caries and gum disease have a significant effect on the quality of life and well-being of the children. Serious cases of caries often cause toothache and risk of infection. A child with toothache will have a hard time concentrating in school and may have difficulties eating, which can lead to bad nourishment. Moreover, affected children often experience pain and discomfort when speaking, smiling and playing, Poul Erik Petersen finds. Frequent intake of sugar, poor diet, nutrition and oral hygiene and limited fluoride-based prevention are some of the main causes of dental disease.

Dental disease among school children on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has long been a problem. In the new report Poul Erik Petersen, together with the country’s ministry of health, establishes the extent of the problem from 1998 to 2013. It is on the basis of this report that the team will develop a more effective school health programme.
‘First we have had to outline the situation. If you have to create something that should have an effect in the future, it is best to know what has happened in the past over a period of years. When school dentists have examined children, they have recorded diseases and the number of teeth affected by caries. And of course that is lucky for us, because it has given us the opportunity to go back all those years to determine how we should act today’, says Poul Erik Petersen.

Improving Children’s Health
Among other things, the report shows that just over half of all children aged six years today have caries in their primary teeth. In total 80 per cent of the primary teeth with caries need dental care. Around 40 per cent of children aged 12 and 16 years have caries in their permanent teeth. 78 and 68 per cent of these teeth, respectively, need dental care.

Poul Erik Petersen and the Palestinian ministry of health will be working on the demonstration project for three years. When the final programme is ready, they hope that it, in addition to promoting dental health, will contribute to improving children’s health in general, among other things by focusing on reducing their sugar intake.

The scientific report ‘Oral health status among children and adolescents in governmental and private schools of the Palestinian Territories’ has been published in the International Dental Journal.

Professor Emeritus Poul Erik Petersen
Phone: +45 29 61 14 86

Press Officer Mathilde Sofia Egede Andersen
Phone: +45 23 64 94 25