projects 24 June 2014 core projects

Dental Wellness Western Cape Action Group

The Dental Wellness Trust is working to improve the oral health of schoolchildren in socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Cape Town.  Our films on YouTube explain more about our work in South Africa.



In January 2012 Dr Linda Greenwall traveled to South Africa where she visited the Khayalitsha township in Cape Town.   As a result of this trip, the Dental Wellness Trust inspired a new initiative in the Western Cape.

Dr Linda Greenwall traveled back to Cape Town in August 2012 to co-host an Oral Health Conference in partnership with the University of the Western Cape Faculty of Dentistry. The objective of the conference was to conduct a needs assessment of oral health in the area, with particular focus on Khayelitsha. This was the first meeting of its kind and has put oral health back on the agenda.

Stakeholders at the conference included government representatives from the Department of Health, local dentists, oral health specialists, representatives from the Western Cape Dental Association, and representatives from local community healthcare workers.  With input from all parties, a needs assessment was conducted.

The main aims of the conference were to:

  1. Review current status and determinants of oral health affecting the most vulnerable children in the Cape Town area.
  2. Consider the intervention options likely to make a difference to child oral health
  3. Explore ways for partnership to facilitate process of improving child oral health

It was clear from the conference that Khayelitsha was in desperate need of an oral health strategy.


Why Khayelitsha?

Khayelitsha has a population of around 500,000 residents and is one of the largest townships in Cape Town.  Access to proper dental treatment in townships such as Khayelitsha is limited.  Consequently, the oral health status is low. Many people have little knowledge of basic oral hygiene and have a very limited awareness of what measures need to be taken to avoid and/or reduce tooth decay. Thus, many children and adults suffer from severe tooth decay and/or toothache. There is, as a result, a strong need for education about oral health and for preventive measures as well as dental treatments.

There are numerous challenges in the community with regards to oral health.  These include economic constraints such as the poor availability of toothbrushes and toothpaste.  There is also poor dental service in the community, with a lack of affordable dentists.  People are not sufficiently informed about oral health and no priority is given to brushing and maintaining teeth.  In general people are more likely to visit a dentist when something is wrong, rather than as a preventative measure.  There is also high consumption of the ‘wrong’ foods, e.g. sweets instead of fruit and vegetables.  Many have an attitude that baby teeth are unimportant, since new adult teeth will grow.


What happened next?

Following the conference, the Dental Wellness Trust formed partnerships with Ikamva Labuntu, MKI and the University of the Western Cape – and the Dental Wellness Western Cape Action Group was established.  In April 2013 we began to pilot an innovative oral health education programme in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.  The objective is to assess how the programme makes a measurable difference to the oral health of children in the township.  On completion, we plan to deliver the programme across the region.

The Pilot Study Team: Dr Dirk Smit UWC (Dental School, the University of the Western Cape), Dr Linda Greenwall (Dental Wellness Trust), Professor Neil Myburgh (University of the Western Cape),  Dr Alon Livni (Hadassah, Hebrew University), Health Coordinator Lulama Sigasana (Ikamva Labuntu), and volunteers from the Occupational Therapy Department at University of Cape Town.


Now we are running supervised brushing sessions at 6 schools and 5 locations after school. We call it LiveSmart and it is helping hundreds of children to get access to dental care and education.

Read more about it here.