Creating healthy smiles in Brazil to improve social inclusion
A movement to promote access to low cost dental services
While touring in public schools after the launch of his first book in 2005, "Um Sorriso Feliz para o seu Filho" (A Happy Smile for your Child), Dr. Fabio Bibancos realized that lower income families had extremely limited access to dental services. By the time children were taken to public dental clinics, they had already lost many teeth and had very poor oral health. Many had no access to reconstructive treatment.
Dr. Bibancos also saw the of poor dental hygiene on teenagers’ livelihoods and productivity. At first he treated them out of his own office pro-bono, but as the demand increased, he invited colleagues to join.
In 2005 he founded Turma do Bem, an organization that aims to change society’s perception of oral health and provide children with access to dental care. The organization also shows dentists the social and environmental impacts of their activities and runs the program Dentista do Bem, which coordinates the work of volunteer dentists. The organization is active in nine countries in Latin America and Europe.
Why has dental health become your passion?
Our biggest challenge is to teach society the importance of oral health and the impact it has on people’s livelihood. Many people cannot find work because of their oral health. They don’t smile or date. They suffer discrimination and feel pain. We want to put dentistry on civil society and the public sector’s agenda.
What remains to be done?
We only offer treatment for patients between 11 to 17 years of age, so thousands of people are out of this target. Governments and society need to understand that oral health is a right. Government must do its part and start offering proper treatment in public hospitals.
How do you plan for the sustainability of Dentista do Bem?
In addition to our 3 sponsors, Trident, Vale and EDP, we fundraise throughout the year. Also, our model, based on volunteer work out of doctor’s own facilities, assists sustainability and expansion of the program. [Program staff pictured below]
We are also planning on launching products like toothpaste and toothbrushes for wealthier consumers to support us financially so we can continue replicating in Latin America. Expansion will be more challenging in Africa due to the lack of dentists.
What do you think are the biggest milestones of Dentista do Bem?
How was your experience attending the World Economic Forum as a social entrepreneur?
I realized that we have to be extremely dynamic. From the Forum meetings we brought the idea to implement the IT system that the organization uses today. This system captures family members' names, addresses, and the closest doctors to them. It also helps us manage visits, returns, and the patient/doctor relationship. Additionally, it was incredible for me to see projects from around the world and exchange experiences.
Your organization has several projects that involve not only providing children with dental care, but also professional training to poor young Brazilians.
Unfortunately, in Brazil, oral care is not the only problem for social inclusion. After meeting these patients, it was clear that they needed much more. What I could do was to offer a Dentist Assistant professional course and help them to get a job, and provide them with opportunity.
What makes Dentista do Bem unique among other organizations in Brazil?
Dentista do Bem is unique because of its simple and easily replicable format. Our dentists volunteer care in their own offices and we manage to constantly grow using this network. There are 220,000 dentists in Brazil, representing 12% of dentists in the world--there is a big potential to replicate further. Dentista do Bem has been replicated internationally as well.
How can the private sector support initiatives like yours?
Companies are starting to prioritize projects of social responsibility and becoming aware of their role in society. The fastest and more direct way to support us is to be a donor or a project sponsor. The longest way is to help society develop. We seek to inspire companies to have responsible behaviors, for example, to influence the production of low cost products to promote oral health.
Could you name other initiatives you think have a very positive impact on healthcare/and social inclusion/ worldwide and in Brazil?
I would highlight Vera Cordeiro´s project Saúde Criança (Child Health Project), Saúde e Alegria (Health and Happiness Project) coordinated by Eugenio Scannavino, and GRAAC (Support Group for Children and Adolescents with cancer).