A group of five dental specialists from New York University’s College of Dentistry (NYUCD) visited Armenia from May 7-14 in collaboration with Children of Armenia Fund. The purpose of their visit was to study the needs of oral health care in Armenian villages and assess the types of programs to best address these needs.
“We are exploring opportunities of collaboration to increase access to oral health services for the underserved communities in rural Armenia, and improve programs that COAF has implemented to combat tooth decay in their target regions,” said Dr. Stuart Hirsch, head of the NYU delegation and Vice Dean of International and Student affairs at NYUCD.
The COAF Dental Care Program is directed to combat tooth decay among rural children in preschool and primary school. It aims at decreasing the prevalence of tooth decay among rural children through a multidimensional approach comprised of education, prevention and treatment. The intervention consists of both health education activities and oral hygiene activities targeted for children, but parents are also educated on proper oral hygiene. Regular tooth-brushing is carried out in schools to develop lifelong habits and twice a year, students also undergo preventive fluoridation.
The NYUCD team visited five villages in the Lori and Armavir regions. In addition to meeting with local government and their colleagues, they also conducted a needs assessment among rural children during their visit. They had the opportunity to share their results with the Minister of Health, Mr. Armen Muradyan, which concluded that dental care needs to be urgently addressed in the rural communities. The team found that many children suffered from “baby bottle tooth decay” or “early childhood caries” which could be avoided through awareness and prevention. For children already showing symptoms, the earlier they can be treated, the less extensive the treatment will be.
The NYUCD team proposed to gather a group of dentists and alumni who could go to Armenia, and bring along necessary equipment and supplies to treat affected children. In addition to treating children with tooth decay, the dentists can also help in training parents and children on the proper way to clean teeth in order to prevent any decay.
Mr. Muradyan stressed the value and importance of such a project in the rural communities, especially at a time when the country is focusing on healthy living. “This project not only aims to improve health outcomes but by improving the health of our communities we are also improving our country’s economic state.”
The NYUCD team included: Dr. Stuart Hirsch, Ms. Rachel Hill, Mr. Christopher Tung, Ms. Christine Karapetian, and Ms. Stephanie Karapetian. The team was very grateful for the opportunity to partner with COAF and expressed admiration for COAF programs and for the trust they gained in villages. They hope to be back to Armenia again next year.
Thoughts shared by the NYUCD Team:
Dr. Stuart Hirsch
When we go back to NY, we will see how it goes – so far everything has been good, and when we come back next year, which we usually do, and see how it goes in a year, we may also consider coming back to Armenia the next two years as well.
If the SMART Center is ready by then and there are conditions to carry out our mission in the premises of the SMART Center, being a central location, more children will have a chance to be enrolled in the project, and the number of beneficiaries will be higher.
The organizational aspect of this trip has been fantastic, and Nune Dolyan is the best host we could ever think of. The itinerary that she put together for us is very well structured, and for our next trip that we are taking in June, we are going to use it as a template. I even sent it to the next hosting country and asked them to use this template.
It’s critical to involve teachers, especially in the preventive component. I was happy to see how caring and interested the teachers are in Armenia. It’s a great field for us.
The picture that we saw in Armavir was sad and frustrating. There has been astronomic amount of decay in almost every child’s mouth. If the mutual decision is for us to return and implement this project in COAF-supported villages, I do hope that our measures will have a positive impact.
I feel that the dream that I had for so long is finally a reality. I have always felt guilty for not being there for Armenia all the time and helping my fellow Armenians. This partnership and the wonderful project are the least I could do for my country, having had the privilege of studying in New York and becoming a good specialist. It’s time for me to give back to my nation and help all these children.
ABOUT NYUCD/Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach Program
The NYUCD/Henry Schein Cares Global Student Outreach Program has built an exemplary global outreach model that provides participants with a unique service-learning experience, opportunities to conduct critically needed research, and an increased awareness of access to care issues. Participants on these outreaches speak of being challenged to re-think their roles as healthcare providers, and describe their experiences as "transformative." Equally important, the communities served by these programs are empowered by NYUCD’s outreach model as sustainable oral health services become a reality. Current international outreach sites include Manta, Ecuador; Grenada, West Indies; La Preciosita, Mexico; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Granada, Nicaragua.
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