One in every two children aged five years and below suffer from tooth decay.
Moreover, 99 per cent of children have had at least one dental problem, while all adults indicated that they had at least one current dental problem that required attention.
National Oral Health Policy 2022-2030 and the first National Oral Health Strategic Plan 2022-2026, launched on Thursday, show that the current dentist to population ratio stands at 1:100,000.
“Low prioritisation to implement preventive and promotive oral health programmes has led to the current demand for curative services outstripping the facilities and human resource available,” the strategic plan says.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there are two universities in Kenya that offer training in Bachelor of Dental Surgery and specialist postgraduate courses.
The School of Dental Sciences, University of Nairobi and School of Dentistry, Moi University.
“The postgraduate training is costly hence most applicants are forced to compete for limited government scholarships,” says the plan.
Principal Secretary, Ministry of Health, Susan Mochache said the strategy and policy will reverse the situation under the Universal Health Coverage Programme.
Ms Mochache said the National Oral Health Policy 2022-2030 and the first National Oral Health Strategic Plan 2022-2026 will confront the oral health challenges.
She announced that the Universal Health Coverage will also cover dental treatment services.
The UHC also provides beneficiaries with essential health services including ailments such as mental health, surgeries, and cancer treatment, she said. “We are determined to cushion poor households from the high cost of accessing dental services.”
Oral diseases, she said, were among the commonest chronic diseases and were a major public health problem due to the resultant disease and economic burden on individuals, families, societies, and health care systems.
The policy, she said, recognises that management of oral health in a ‘silo’ approach as has been the norm is ineffective in tackling the enormous challenges.
“Going forward, we are set to integrate oral health promotion and disease prevention into other health programmes,” she said.
Ms Mochache said the Ministry will provide necessary budgetary support to oral health service units to ensure quality oral health care and treatment to those who need it.
The ministry, she said, will work with the Ministry of Education to adopt and incorporate oral health programmes in early childhood teaching curriculums to educate learners on the importance of oral hygiene.
Oral diseases are some of the most expensive to treat and often require high out-of-pocket payments.