Ensuring oral health around the world: Teeth Relief

Teeth Relief is a UK charity committed to improving oral health within low-income communities. It was founded in 1989 as The Sunnymede Trust by Dr. Sharon Rankin, on her return from voluntary work in Zambia. Dr. Rankin has over 25 years of experience as a dentist and dental trainer, has worked for the FDI (International Dental Federation) as Oral Health Care Development Manager for developing countries, and was Secretary of the European Dental Solidarity group (EDS). She currently works at Kings Dental Institute in the Acute Dental Care Department, and continues to head Teeth Relief. Her charity’s aim is to make knowledge of oral health a fundamental part of health education. To that end, the charity has created a unique training manual that explains oral health practice in plain English.

Dr. Rankin first learned of Translators without Borders (TWB) in early 2013, from Brian Rushaju, a Ugandan dentist using Teeth Relief’s manual to train nurses and clergy in oral health and emergency dental care for the Ugandan charity RunDental. As she described for us, “Brian met Simon [a TWB board member] at a conference in Arusha, Tanzania and queried whether we could request TWB to translate the manual into Kiswahili for him to possibly use in Kenya and Tanzania.” As the charity had no budget to pay for translations, Translators without Borders’ volunteers were able to provide services that otherwise would have gone unfulfilled.

Teeth Relief decided to first translate their manual into French and Spanish. Dr. Rankin explained: “We used the French version in a pilot scheme in Rwanda this summer, working with another charity so it had an immediate impact. Presently we are getting both the French and Spanish proofread and reformatted so that we can offer free download of the PDF on the website. Hopefully long-term, with fundraising, we can print hard copies too. Our next project would be to find funding so that we can pay TWB translators for the Kiswahili version of the manual. None of this work would have been able to be contemplated without Teeth Relief working with TWB and them providing pro bono professional translators.”

Translations of the manual will help spread the word on providing oral healthcare training to clinical workers in low-income areas without dentists. “Teeth Relief working with TWB has meant that we can focus on the technical aspects of oral healthcare, and they can focus on professional translation. Working together, we produce something that neither of us could produce on our own.”

As Teeth Relief’s website points out: “If good causes were measured against each other in a life and death way, Oral Health would never reach the top of the ladder. But anyone who has suffered with toothache will know that pain in the mouth affects how you feel and how you eat. In resource poor communities, 90% of dental decay remains untreated with a considerable knock-on effect. Oral Health education must become an integral part of all health education as an essential, not as a luxury.” With each additional translation of their manual, Teeth Relief’s goal can become reality for an increasing number of people in the world.

Anna Stevenson