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“Every Child Deserves a Healthy Smile” A Rare Take on ECCD

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Author: Mmantsetsa Marope (PhD), the IBE Director

While in Istanbul for the STEM education project, I took the opportunity to meet some of the key figures doing groundbreaking work in areas that constitute IBE flagship programs. This time, I discussed early childhood care and development (ECCD) with an avid supporter, Dr. Gilman Yücel.

Dr. Yücel runs a state of the art dental health facility that pays special attention to children of all backgrounds and needs. She and her team actually manage to turn a visit to a dentist into memorable fun, by using advanced technology not only for clinical procedures, but also to ensure a child-friendly dental health facility. Augmented Reality (AR), a range of apps and gadgets, dental albums, and comic book characters are used to distract children from the anxiety and even fear of visiting her practice. Even the clinic itself is a co-created space, with the children’s art, pictures, and notes adding to its ambience.

Dr. Yücel’s motivation goes beyond dental health and aesthetics. “Do you know how many children miss school because of severe toothache?” She asked. Issues with child dental health can deny a child opportunities—to go to school, enjoy a good meal, play with others, or gain the confidence from a perfect smile. Without quality care, a small decay in a child’s mouth can deny them an enjoyment of life. This is why holistic child health is not negotiable.

I shared with her that IBE views holistic ECCD as entailing child health, nutrition, education, and protection—legal, social, economic—and support factors like water and sanitation. She agreed, and spoke emphatically on holistic child health, noting the contribution of her specialization and expertise: dental health. “Unfortunately, lots of children, especially in rural areas, do not have access to quality and timely dental care.” This need for holistic health for all children is why Dr. Yücel advocates for equity of quality dental health services for all children, and plans to spend her time reaching out to the most under-served areas in Turkey and other developing countries to provide dental health care to children.

To further spread her message of “Every child deserves a healthy smile", Dr. Yücel also has a book, The Sparkles on my Teeth coming out in August 2020 that explores the dental fear and orthodontic treatment process in childhood, and features illustrations contributed by one of her eight-year-old patients.