Oral Special Care Academic Resources (OSCAR) Erasmus+ Project: virtual, hybrid, real

Pages: 85-92

Arina Vinereanu, Raluca Paula Vacaru

Oral health is important for all children – perhaps even more so for children with special healthcare needs, for whom dental treatment can be difficult and sometimes even at risk. Systemic diseases, medication and/or specific behavior patterns of these children may influence dental management and dental professionals can feel reluctant in dealing with this category due to insufficient knowledge and experience in the field.  This reluctance is one of the main factors responsible for the limited the dental addressability of children with general pathologies as compared to the general population.

This situation was the startpoint of Oral Special Care Academic Resources Project (OSCAR Erasmus+ 2019-1-RO01-KA202-063820), which reunites partners from France (Hôpitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg), Italy (Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesu), Turkey (Marmara University Istanbul) and Romania (Romanian National Association of Paediatric dentistry, Carol Davila University Bucharest, Special Olympics Romania). Project partners aim to promote dental practitioners’ awareness and experience in the field of special oral care. Among the main actions of the project, its digital platform (http://oscarpd.eu/), provides useful practical information on dental treatment of children with special oral healtcare needs, bringing together a synthesis of clinical features and paraclinical findings in various general diseases with emphasis on implications upon oral pathology and treatment, along with the long-term practical experience of project partners in the field.

 OSCAR aims to raise awareness among dental practitioners, more specifically among residents in paediatric dentistry, regarding the needs for dental treatment of children with special healthcare needs. The project is also meant to improve knowledge and practical skills of dental professionals making them more able and willing to provide quality oral care to this particular category of patients, with a good impact on their quality of life.

Covid-19 pandemic did not stop OSCAR, but it put on hold the project’s on-site professional meetings and hands-on events for a longer period of time than expected. Despite all these, OSCAR partners kept in touch through monthly virtual meetings and collaborated to bring OSCAR to community.

Given the circumstances, the OSCAR Multiplier Event hosted by the Council Room of The Faculty of General Medicine of Carol Davila University Bucharest on Friday, June 25th, as the first real-life meeting after the onset of the pandemic, was a time of joy and emotion. Organized as a „hybrid” event and using technology to provide access for a larger number of virtual participants given the actual restrictions, the event reunited, on-site and on-line, over 250 participants from Romania, Turkey, France, Italy and Israel.

As a nice surprise, on-site participants were welcomed with special smiles by Andreea and Daniel, two young people with intellectual disabilities, who served coffee while introducing, for the very fisrt time, “The Coffee Bike”, a new project of Special Olympics Romania (SOR) Foundation. The Coffee Bike is one of the many actions of SOR aiming to raise public awareness on the abilities of people with special needs, on their capacity to work and earn a living, promoting social inclusion.

The event sterted with short introductions of project partners’representatives, describing the way special oral care is organized and delivered in their respective institutions, the facilities and circumstances under which dental treatment for people with special healthcare needs is carried out as well as the special oral care under and postgraduate curricula in their countries. Curricular differences between various universities and postgraduate training centers were pointed out through the results of a study in this respect, carried out by the Romanian National Association of Paediatric Dentistry, initiator of the OSCAR project. Dentists from the countries involved in the project were involved in the study. Results show the need to reconsider and adjust Pedodontics Residency curriculum in Romania with regard to both theoretical and clinical aspects so that specialists in Pedodontics can become better prepared to face the challenge of treating children with general pathologies, and this specialty can come closer to european recognition.

Oral health in patients with special needs: a goal to be achieved”, presented bycolleagues from Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù (OPBG), showed how confort and overall evolution of the heath of young patients admitted into hospital for general diseases can be influenced by their oral health status and how, through simple yet efficient means, oral health can be improved, with a good impact upon general health as well as on the quality of life of these patients.

A very straightforward vision of the patient’s point of view was brought to the participants by Vlad, an ambitious young man with cerebral palsy, whose physical disability did not keep him from graduating a university and from becoming a master student in Sociology and Social assistancy – and quite a remarkable one, very much involved in social integration and public awareness, pleading for social inclusion of people with special needs.  Vlad told us about the sometimes unspoken wish of people with physical and intellectual disabilities to be treated and looked upon by the medical team in the same manner as any other patients, with comprehension and compassion rather than pity. Understanding the needs of these special patients and collaborating with them beyond the disabilities that mark their entire existence but do not define them as persons is highly rewarding for medical professionals, while giving patients a boost of self-confidence and a sense of inclusion, a feeling that the isolation they unfortunately still have to confront can actually be defeated.

Technology also brought parents’vision of the metter into the conference room. Dorina, Vlad’s mom, was virtually present to talk to the audience about the difficulties she and her son had to face through time, but also about the satisfaction they experienced when they met practitioners that understood and met their needs.

Not only a parent but also a trained therapist, Dorina explained the emotional impact that a direct meeting between a child with special needs and a medical professional may have on both sides.

The presentations from Hôpitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg, Carol Davila University and the Romanian National Association of Paediatric Dentistry that followed used specific examples to introduce the two sections of the digital platform of the OSCAR project to the audience: the one for dental professionals and the other directly addressing the parents of children with special healthcare needs. Still under construction but already functional, this platform provides dentists with essential practical information on how oral health and management are influenced by various kinds of general pathologies. At the same time, it gives families and caregivers useful information on adapted oral hygiene and prevention of oral disease.

Participants were invited to access the information on the platform and give feedback in order to help and stimulate continuous improvement of the platform contents, as well as to share the news about the platform with colleagues and parents who could benefit from the free, downloadable information available there.

On-site participants enthusiastically socialized and shared impressions over lunch, as the pandemic had dramatically limited such occasions until recently. Useful as on-line events have proven themselves during all this time while real-life meeting were put on hold, we all agreed that direct interaction was deeply missed. And that is only natural, as „teledentistry” (also introduced by the OSCAR platform) can merely postpone and never replace direct in-office encounter with our young patients and their families, with their pathologies and fears, as well as with our own.

Pandemic or not, OSCAR remains close to dentists and patients, open for collaborations and eager to develop and grow. See you soon!

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