Gudfala Tut – The Healthy Teeth Program

Results from Vanuatu’s 2017 National Oral Health Survey confirmed that 70% of children aged between 5-7 years had dental decay, 19% were in need of urgent treatment for pain and/or infection and 78% had bleeding gums indicative of poor oral hygiene.  

As a result of these key findings, the Gudfala Tut Skul Program was developed; ‘gudfala tut’ means Healthy Teeth in Bislama, the common language used throughout Vanuatu.   

The Gudfala Tut Skul Program is a supervised toothbrushing program designed for Kindergarten and Grade 1 school children in Vanuatu. The aim of the program is to develop toothbrushing skills and greater awareness of the importance of oral health in children and their families, instilling life-long oral hygiene habits during early formative years and contributing to improvement in overall oral health.  

The program is a partnership between Medical Sailing Ministries (MSM Inc.), The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, Vanuatu Ministry of Health and Dentalife Australia Pty Ltd.  

Dentalife collaborated to develop a toothpaste that enabled the local communities to get involved through sourcing of local raw materials as well as in the manufacture of the toothpaste – the toothpaste is based on coconut oil that is readily available in Vanuatu as a local product and the formula is mixed in a standard kitchen food mixer, empowering local communities to safely prepare the toothpaste to consistent standards.  

The paste needed to be bright in colour to create excitement amongst the children, encouraging them to partake in the program. 

Sustainability was another important requirement, the formula designed to be distributed in reusable bottles (reducing impact on the environment) whilst maintaining infection control standards.  The consistency of the paste, combined with the design of the reusable bottles, allows the teacher to apply toothpaste to a number of student toothbrushes quickly and efficiently, at the same time avoiding contact with the toothbrush bristles ensuring infection control standards are met.  

Future trials are in the planning with the aim of sourcing the calcium carbonate in the paste from shore-harvested dead coral that can be found on local beaches.  

Since the program started, teachers are reporting that fewer children (as well as teachers who participate in the program!) are experiencing less toothache and as a result children are more alert in class and schools are reporting a drop in absenteeism due to toothache.  

The children participating in the program complete a classroom diary as well as an ‘at home’ brushing diary, with diary entries showing that almost 100% of children are brushing their teeth at least twice daily. Many of the children have been able to encourage siblings and parents to improve teeth brushing routines – a positive family shift from no or little brushing to some brushing.   

As of August 2020, the Gudfala Tut Skul Program has been implemented in 14 urban, one semi-urban and two rural schools covering 1,265 Kindergarten children (49 classes) and 947 Grade 1 children (26 classes). The target for 2021 was 38 schools; to put these numbers into perspective, the total population of Vanuatu is around 380,000 – currently MSM Inc., PCV Health and MOH are preparing a phased plan to cover 40 urban and 80 rural schools throughout Vanuatu 

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