The Associate of Science in Dental Health (ASDH) program at the Aga Khan University (AKU) aims to bring awareness to dental hygiene as a crucial goal for the dental team in providing preventive care and patient education, especially in rural areas where access to care is limited. The program represents the university’s effort to improve healthcare outcomes in Pakistan. It focuses on both training skilled Dental Hygienists and raising awareness about the profession’s critical role within the dental team. It also provides the Dental Hygienist with the skills required to perform essential services such as oral cancer screening, examining teeth for signs of oral disease or damage, and educating patients on how to improve and maintain oral health. Dental hygienists are instrumental in the early detection of dental issues, which facilitates referrals to dentists and specialists.

Saira Tejpar, a Dental Hygienist from Canada, received her bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene Science from Northeastern University in Boston and has been practicing dental hygiene for 30 years in both clinical practice and education in Toronto. When she first heard about the AKU ASDH program, Saira was immediately motivated to contribute her TKN volunteer service as an educator. She travelled to Karachi to serve on this ASDH Educator TKN assignment from April 15 to May 10, 2024. Her role was to assist the current faculty, Dr Ali Sadiq DDS, Shazia Taimoor DH, and Iqra Damani DH, in evaluating and educating both junior and senior students. The faculty briefed her about the program and the students' needs and were very supportive.

The senior students had started providing treatment to patients so Saira assisted in evaluating and providing feedback to them during all phases of client care. With the juniors, she had the privilege of facilitating lectures on instrumentation and evaluating them on their instrument competency. The students were eager to learn, receptive to feedback, curious about Dental Hygiene practice abroad and passionate about their career choice to provide services in rural areas.

This was Saira’s first visit to Pakistan and the first time away from home for 5 weeks.  She says, “This ASDH program TKN assignment was an incredibly fulfilling and inspiring experience”. She was impressed by the program exposure the students receive to other specialty departments in their clinical rotation such as ENT, Head and Neck Oncology, and Oral Pathology. She also had the unique opportunity to accompany one of the Dental Hygiene interns on a rotation in Palliative Care. The Dental Hygiene intern asked the patient if they were able to eat, examined the mouth for any oral lesions and dental concerns and provided oral health instructions for homecare to keep the patient comfortable. Saira is convinced that in the recognition of a Dental Hygienist as an essential part of the dental team, AKU is providing a more holistic approach to dental care that improves patient outcomes and enhances the effectiveness of dental services.

Saira concludes: “through this TKN experience and in the spirit of volunteerism and professional dedication, I am hoping to provide ongoing support to the program both in person and virtually to facilitate the learning so that the graduates are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the profession. The collaborative efforts and leadership of the program are an inspiring example of how we can come together to create lasting positive change in the healthcare sector in Pakistan”.

ASDH’s Director Dr Ali Sadiq comments, “We were delighted to host Ms. Tejpar. She contributed valuable experience, and her expertise significantly improved our students' clinical skills. Additionally, her engaging teaching style and dedication to student success made a lasting impact on everyone involved. Ms. Tejpar’s feedback will significantly contribute to the improvement of the Aga Khan University Dental Hygiene Programme in Pakistan. As the programme continues to evolve, expert insights are essential for advancing its development”.