Decay in health promotion leads to cavities for Clyde children

Overworked health workers in Clyde River have no time for the kind of health promotion work that could educate residents on how to avoid tooth decay.



CLYDE RIVER — There’s something rotten in Clyde River — children’s teeth.

Nurses in the hamlet say that tooth decay is a preventable illness that is costing Nunavut’s health system losts of money, but a heavy workload is thwarting their efforts at warding it off.

“We don’t get time to do hardly any health promotion,” said Mark McKenna, one of two community nurses in Clyde River.

McKenna and fellow community nurse Sherry Devos said the hamlet desperately needs a third nurse. Both said their overtime hours will often exceed the length of regular 35-and-a-half-hour work week.

With a population of about 800 people, the hamlet is too much work for only two people, they said.

Devos said that the nursing station in Clyde River was originally set up to run with three nurses, but the third position has been empty for some time. McKenna said a dental therapist position is also open in the hamlet, but remains unfilled.

“We should be doing more talks on the radio, going into the school more. Programs such as the well men’s clinic are virtually ignored,” McKenna said.

Pop destroys teeth

But the lack of health promotion isn’t the sole cause of tooth decay in the hamlet. There is another culprit, and it comes in a bottle.

“Pop,” said Sherry Devos. “If there was no pop in Clyde River we wouldn’t have any problems. The kids love it.”

Devos said a combination of sugary drinks and poor dental hygiene is wrecking the teeth of some people who live in the hamlet.

“They don’t brush their teeth. It isn’t a priority for them,” said Devos.

She said tooth decay is rampant among children, and that many adults have dentures.

“Most of the kids have caps all over their mouth,” she said. When dentists visit the community, their time is taken up with pulling teeth and filling cavities, she said.

There is a six to 12 month waiting list for children to travel to Iqaluit to have teeth pulled out while under general anesthesia, said Devos’s co-worker Mark McKenna.

When children have to have a lot of teeth pulled, it is to difficult to do the work while they’re awake.

No time for prevention

Instead of trying to prevent illnesses before they start, the nurses say they’re constantly finding themselves playing catch up.

“We try to do dental hygiene promotion. We try to do it in school,” Devos said. But McKenna said they simply don’t have time to do it often enough or to train others to teach children how to care for their teeth.

“That’s the only way the people up here are ever going to get anywhere. They have to start assisting local people to do the health promotion work themselves,” said McKenna.

“It’s got to be going toward the local people,” he said.

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