Healthy smiles

Providing children in Bolivia with dental care and oral hygiene education

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The Need

In Belen de Santana and San Roque, near the city of El Alto, Bolivia, many families live in extreme poverty. Most caregivers work as day labourers in construction or agriculture and are living hand to mouth. With all their income going toward food and shelter, many families can’t afford to buy basic hygiene materials like toothbrushes and toothpaste. There is also a general lack of awareness in these communities around dental hygiene and its long-term impacts. As a result, many of the children Compassion is serving in these areas have suffered from poor oral health for their whole lives.

Untreated cavities and gum disease not only cause children chronic pain but can make it difficult for them to chew and swallow their food. As time goes on, these conditions can also lead to serious complications like abscesses or life-threatening infections.

In Belen de Santana and San Roque, routine medical checkups revealed that 40 per cent of Compassion-assisted children were suffering from multiple cavities and gingivitis. Their gums were sore and bleeding, and many were having trouble eating, increasing the risk of malnutrition. Our church partners were concerned and reached out for help.

Our Response

With your support, we were able to provide much needed dental care to 350 children from two Compassion centres in Belen de Santana and San Roque. In April 2021, an organizational and planning meeting was held with the centre directors and staff to review the objectives, activities and schedule of dental checkups for the beneficiaries. In the following weeks, a contract was signed with a dentist who would be providing the care and treatments. To make the checkups more accessible to the beneficiaries, the team decided to adapt a room in the church where the dentist could provide care.

This intervention provided critical dental treatment to 247 children in need of urgent care, which included fillings and extractions. Checkups were completed between June and September 2021, with treatment occurring in October and November 2021. A total of 225 children had their teeth professionally cleaned and received fluoride treatment during a fluoridation campaign to help prevent future cavities. Parents agreed to contribute between 20 and 30 per cent of the cost of the treatments, with the remainder covered by the church.

Children and their parents also attended workshops on oral health, where they learned from a dentist about the importance of keeping their teeth and gums clean to prevent tooth decay and how to properly brush and floss. Families received a hygiene kit including toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss and a glass. Participation in these events was lower than expected due to COVID-19; however, we were still able to reach 250 children and 120 parents. Because the dentist did not end up charging a fee for the workshops, the original budget for this intervention was redistributed to include 47 more children in need of urgent dental treatment. To close out this intervention, youth from the church organized and hosted a special fair to raise awareness about oral health. The event was open to the community and included games and activities along with educational exhibitions and demonstrations.

Providing children and families with good dental care will be an ongoing initiative in these communities. In the coming months, churches are planning to build strategic alliances with local institutions that provide free or reduced cost dental care for those in need. Staff will also continue to follow up with children to ensure they are brushing their teeth regularly and are maintaining good oral health.


Workshops: Children and parents attended workshops at the church to learn about common tooth and gum diseases, and how they can prevent tooth decay by brushing and flossing their teeth regularly.

Hygiene kits: Children were happy to receive oral hygiene kits that included a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand towel, floss and cup for rinsing.

Dental treatment: Children received urgent dental care including fillings, extractions and sealant. Their teeth were professionally cleaned, and they received a protective fluoride treatment.

Oral health fair: Youth age 19 and up organized a community oral health fair that was open to local children and families. The fair included exhibitions on the importance of dental care, as well as fun games and activities. Compassion youth taught and promoted taking good care of teeth as a way of being good stewards of their bodies.

Your Gift Provides...

• Dental treatment for 247 beneficiaries
• Teeth cleaning and fluoride treatment for 200 beneficiaries
• Three oral health workshops for children and parents, including:
○ Educational materials (flipcharts, banners, puppets, movies)
○ Snacks
○ Oral hygiene kits (toothbrush, towel, dental floss, toothpaste)

ReportA message from those your gift helped

Before the church helped me, I could not go to the dentist because my parents did not have money for other things, only for food. We didn’t have the money to have my teeth extracted and restored. We were sad because we could not work, but with the help the church has given us with food, we had enough to eat and I felt grateful.

The doctor has restored some of my permanent teeth and also made some extractions. Now I can eat better. My teeth no longer hurt, and I feel happy. In addition, I was able to participate in the tooth care workshops and I feel that I have learned a lot.

I have learned to brush my teeth well and to go to the dentist when it hurts or I have cavities. I have learned how to prevent dental disease, because when it is advanced I can lose my permanent teeth. I also learned that we must fluoridate our teeth to protect them. I have learned to be grateful. Before, I could not afford to pay for care, but now I have received great support.

To all those who supported us financially, I say thank you very much because you have helped me. God bless you!

Luz, a Compassion-assisted beneficiary, Belen de Santana, Bolivia

ReportThank you for your generosity

Your financial gift enabled two churches near El Alto, Bolivia, to provide urgent dental care for 350 children. Now, these children no longer have to suffer from constant pain and discomfort due to cavities and severe gum disease.

Churches have also been able to provide families with critical education on oral health, as well as essential hygiene materials so they can continue to implement the good habits they have learned.

Church staff are also reporting that children’s self-confidence is improving. Before, many of them had neglected their teeth due to the lack of resources at home. Chewing their food at meals was painful and difficult. Highly conscious of their teeth and gum problems, many were also struggling with low self-esteem. Now, children can enjoy their meals without pain. They can smile freely and without shame. They are so happy, and so grateful for your help!

Church pastors and staff know that in order to ensure long-term success, children and families will require ongoing education and support. Encouraged by the success of this initiative, church pastors and staff are already planning to build connections with other local institutions that provide good dental care for free or at a low cost to families who can’t afford it otherwise.

ReportA message from a centre director

The intervention allowed the participants to recognize the importance of taking care of their teeth by putting proper dental cleaning into practice. Parents feel grateful, because due to the lack of economic resources it is not easy for them to access treatment. The children and young people who participated in this intervention felt loved. In their families, their parents often do not place importance on oral health.

The intervention allowed the church to be recognized by the community, demonstrating interest in the health of the participants who are low-income families. We had the opportunity to present the gospel, showing the love of God by covering dental care and providing materials that were delivered to each participant.

We are immensely grateful for this gesture of love that you have shown towards your fellow man. The resource that you sent has been of great help and support to children, young people and their families. We ask that you continue with this attitude of support so that more families and especially children and young people can receive this benefit.

Carolina Marin, Centre director in Belen de Santana, Bolivia