DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti— “Does anyone know what this is used for?” U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Wallace asked while holding a toothbrush.
Without pause, children in the room made motions as if brushing their teeth with an invisible toothbrush.
“That’s right,” confirms Wallace. “This is used to brush your teeth.”
In a classroom filled with dozens of children, members of the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion functional specialty team conducted an oral hygiene demonstration in Djibouti City, Djibouti, Aug. 8.
The Civil Affairs Battalion functional specialty team includes medical doctors, veterinarians, nurses, dentists, medics, environmental science experts, and other medical specialists. This robust medical capability uniquely positions Civil Affairs to deliver and share clinical, educational and administrative expertise throughout various regions in the Horn of Africa, ultimately building trust and friendships with the local population.
Using dental models called typodonts, as well as toothbrush and toothpaste samples, Wallace, a dental specialist with the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion functional specialty team, conducted two classes in which he demonstrated proper brushing procedures and methods. This included allowing the children to get involved by showcasing what they learned.
“During initial assessments, we observed that there may be a lack of dental care among the youth that frequent Caritas Djibouti,” said Wallace. “As a result, we developed a block of instruction that would provide the children with the education and supplies needed for effective oral hygiene care.”
Caritas Djibouti is a humanitarian organization that contributes emergency aid and education to the inhabitants of Djibouti, mostly to children living on the street.
The two classes spanned nearly 30 minutes each, reinforcing to about 60 children who participated the necessity of preventive oral health care.
“Prevention is the best medicine,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Owen, a comprehensive dentist with the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion functional specialty team. “What we’re trying to do is give them the tools and supplies so that they can avoid tooth pain, decay and infection. That is more effective than waiting until an infection happens, and then treating it.”
After each class, the children left with their own personal oral hygiene kit that included a toothbrush and toothpaste. Now, better equipped to take care of their smiles, they each filed out of the room sporting one—confirming the course’s success.
“The impact of what was done today doesn’t just end with these children,” said Owen. “The positive perceptions that they now have of the U.S. military members and Americans will stay with them and can be passed along to others that they interact with as well.