Rural Zambian Oral Health Transition: A Long-Term Retrospective Examination of an Outreach Program’s Progress and Impact

Morgan JP, Marino ON, Finkelman M, Mourão CF, Flubinda FS

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This study aimed to (a) describe an annual prevention-focused, community-based oral health outreach program in rural Zambia, (b) assess its oral health outcomes using demographic and oral health variables, and c) identify milestones resulting from program activities.

A retrospective analysis of demographic and oral health data from a single site between 2007–2014 and 2018–2019 was conducted. 

Data from 5,791 subjects were analyzed. The prevalence of pain, untreated caries, and highest treatment urgency category decreased consistently across year categories. Both bivariate and multivariable analyses showed statistically significant differences in clinical outcomes between year categories (p < 0.001). In addition, the percentage of male participants and younger age categories increased during the study period. Key program milestones included the installation of two boreholes for clean water, the development of a local community oral health volunteer program, the establishment of an educational pipeline by the Dental Training School for residents, and the construction of a maternal/oral health center with district and ministry oversight.

The observed decrease in treatment urgency scores, presence of pain, and untreated caries are consistent with the prevention-seeking behavior of program participants. The increasing participation and changing demographic patterns over time suggest a growing demand for oral health services among males and younger individuals. The positive oral health outcomes and development of a maternal child/oral health facility exemplify a program design aligned with community needs and appropriate care delivery.