Dental caries (tooth decay) is a universal problem affecting most people in their lifetime. Multiple studies have shown the incidence of dental caries in India is high and increasing, both in prevalence and severity. All age groups are affected, and the problem starts at a young age.

There is a global understanding that an appropriate diet, plaque control, and the use of a fluoride toothpaste can help prevent oral disease and its attendant health and nutrition problems. “Oral health in childhood is a major predictor of oral health in adulthood.” (Caries Res 2005 39: 342–349)

In rural India, the problem of dental caries is especially severe due to the lack of toothbrushes and toothpaste as well as proper oral health education and supervision. Project Starfish cannot fix everyone’s cavities, but we can provide toothbrushes and toothpaste to children in underserved schools – with your help.

Project Starfish has joined dentists from Tampa, Florida to those in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu to start a screening and preventative dental program in rural schools in India to help reduce the prevalence of dental caries.

Dr. Rajiv Kalra, DMD from Agoka Dental in Tampa ( has experience in global dentistry in South America and India. Traditionally, dental mission screening clinics would provide toothbrushes and toothpaste. However, after years of this approach he has learned that giving such tools to children at screening clinics does not guarantee their proper usage. In fact, it frequently ended up in toothpaste fights before the kids left the clinic! For this reason, we have elected to partner with schools that are interested in improving the oral health of their students by providing oral hygiene instructions to the teachers, as well as students, in both English and local languages. Dr. Kalra has found that kids, who are supervised by a teacher, brushing at the beginning and end of the school day, have a lower incidence of dental caries over time (personal observation). To add another measure of control, the toothbrushes and toothpaste are kept at the schools to ensure that the children do, indeed, use them.

Studies in India have shown that supervised toothbrushing and oral health education in school age children have improved their oral hygiene status. (J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2014 Sep-Dec; 4(3): 175-181)

Dr. J Pratheep, MDS-OMFS, FICOI, CCPPM, FAM and Dr. Ravathy Pratheep, BDS, DN Ortho., FAD, from PratheepMax Fac Dental Clinic ( in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India are active in dental screening in underserved areas in Southern India. They have gone to numerous schools (currently over 30) to screen for dental caries and educate children on proper brushing.

In December 2019 Dr. Kalra and Project Starfish started an oral health pilot program, donating toothbrushes and toothpaste to the 130 students at the remote RC Middle School in Tamil Nadu, a multi-denominational, multi-cultural school for underprivileged children. Project Starfish has donated school supplies to this school in the past and continues to extend its support. Pictures of the school have been posted on Facebook several times (take a look). Dr. Kalra plans to make this program sustainable – or ongoing. He estimates that it costs $3.00 per student to provide 3 toothbrushes and toothpaste for a year. To sustain the RC Middle School program, the cost for the 130 students is anticipated to be $390 per year. We believe that the children and teachers are enthusiastic about this program (see pictures!) and Project Starfish’s a long term commitment to them.

We are looking for other dentists or anyone else who would be interested in “adopting a school” and making a multi-year commitment to participate in this very worthwhile program to provide toothbrushes and toothpaste to children in need. We anticipate that Dr. Kalra and Drs. Pratheep will be able to combine their efforts to help the children in underserved schools improve their dental care. If you are interested in participating in this project (or know someone who might be), please contact Dr. Kalra at .

Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures of the players!

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Published by

Josh Osmer

5 Mar 2020

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