Oral health: Why we need to focus more on prevention and not treatment

Dental caries, also known as tooth decay is a public health problem affecting slightly more than a third of Kenya’s adult population.

Although tooth decay does not get the kind of attention it deserves, the repercussions of poor dental care are severe.

They include poor nutrition, severe infections, degraded school performance and acute and chronic pain.

Studies conducted elsewhere have also linked poor oral healthcare and hypertension.

The key factors driving the epidemic of tooth decay are the increasing consumption of sugary foods and drinks and the inadequate use of fluoridated toothpaste, water, salt and milk, to prevent tooth decay.

Government statistics from the 2015 Kenya Oral Health Survey found that just 43 per cent of people brushed their teeth once a day, nine per cent brushed their teeth barely two to six times per week, and four per cent said they had never brushed their teeth. About a quarter of the population said they avoid smiling because of bad teeth.

The problem is acute when it comes to young children. Tooth decay is one key cause of children missing school, which in turn leads to poor academic performance and the challenges related to that as the child grows up.

These statistics are of great concern since a majority of Kenyans have never been assessed for oral diseases.

This is because the country has a dentist population of about 1000 for a population of 42 million people, giving a dentist to population ratio of 1:42,000.

Dental technologists

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a ratio of 1:7,000.

On average, Kenya trains 60 dentists, locally and abroad, 100 community oral health officers and 70 dental technologists annually, but the acute number of oral healthcare professionals is not the only tough news on this front.

The fact that 80 per cent of the available dentists are based in large urban centres, leaving large segments of populations based in rural areas grossly underserved shows why toothpaste manufactures, healthcare providers and the Government must join hands to improve this situation.

The collaborative effort needs to focus on prevention first and then on cure given the reality in Kenya. And this must start with our children.

Habits are instilled early on in life and with concentrated focus on children to drive the importance of oral hygiene habits, great strides will be made in enhancing the state of oral hygiene in Kenya.

World Oral Health Day, commemorated every March 20th, offers an opportunity to raise awareness about oral healthcare, highlight its burden and current state of global capacity for prevention, management and care.

Educating children and teachers on the importance of oral hygiene on the occasion of World Oral Health Day is a great way to re-emphasize the importance of oral hygiene.

Oral Health

Unilever through its Pepsodent Toothpaste brand, has been mulling several ways to improve the situation and for starters, is planning to conduct oral healthcare education and mass brushing clinics in schools across the country on this World Oral Health Day to shine the spotlight on how important this topic is.

A core element of the Pepsodent oral health project has been promoting brushing of teeth with fluoridated toothpaste in primary schools, education made possible by collaborating with teachers and parents.

To accelerate the transition towards universal access to affordable and quality toothpaste, Unilever aims to make good oral health a reality by making toothpaste affordable and accessible to majority of Kenyans.

Generally, prevention is a more effective response than cure. This is why we need to identify and implement sustainable prevention strategies and in this World Oral Health Day, Pepsodent is doing just that.

To really make a dent on this problem, the key industry players, the government and the dental care professionals must come together strongly and invest in sustained and viable strategies aimed at prevention and education.

Focused on reaching all Kenyans and on making basic oral hygiene practices commonplace.

When we get going on this, the future will be bright and we would have done our bit in protecting Kenyan smiles.

Mr Marella is the Beauty and  Personal Care Director at Unilever East [email protected]

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