Alli Kiru: Oral Health and Food Practices Among Amazonian Kichwa Youth


Throughout much of the developing world, large populations of children suffer from tooth decay and chronic tooth pain. The literature on children’s oral health shows that dental caries and the chronic tooth pain they can cause prevent children from eating healthy foods, sleeping through the night and concentrating in school. This leads to malnutrition, poor development, unnecessary suffering, and diminished educational and economic attainment. This study aims to better understand the factors that contribute to the incidence of childhood tooth decay and chronic mouth pain among the indigenous community of Amazonian Kichwa. Prior to this project, as a researcher I had experience working on a quantitative study that examined post-abortion contraceptive methods chosen by women in a higher-risk urban abortion clinic. The Alli Kiru project has been my first qualitative study. I’ve conducted semi-structured interviews with parents or caregivers of pediatric patients enrolled in Alli Kiru, an established oral health intervention program. Over the course of a month, I traveled with a research team to fifteen different Kichwa villages and spoke with caregivers about feeding practices, food sources, and how food and eating practices have changed over the last thirty years. Previously, I’ve spent a fair amount of time living abroad in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia but this was my first time living on an indigenous reservation and in an indigenous community. Through conversations with community members I learned about traditional farming and eating practices and how both have changed dramatically over the last few decades. I also gained an understanding of the extent to which oral health practices have been utilized in these communities and some of the barriers families have faced in establishing oral health care habits and avoiding early childhood caries and mouth pain. The lessons learned via these interviews provided a wealth of qualitative data that I will analyze this year as I construct my master’s thesis in Health and Medical Sciences. I hope to bring a final report of this data back with me next summer to share with the Pueblo Kichwa community through a series of workshops and community meetings with parents, teachers and Kichwa officials. 

Ana Alicia Levin
Publication date: 
September 25, 2013
Publication type: 
Student Research