Poor oral health awareness, lack of access to dental care facilities and poor nutrition are a few of the many reasons 70%, being 7 in 10 Nigerian children, live with tooth decay, especially in rural communities.
This is according to an oral health expert, Dr. Adekemi Adeniyan, who advocates improved dental care for children in Africa post COVID-19 pandemic.
While explaining that tooth decay is quite preventable, Dr Adeniyan said brushing and flossing is still not a priority for some families, mostly those who are struggling to make ends meet following the economic downturn occasioned by the coronavirus outbreak.
In the wake of COVID-19, the WHO in a study revealed that 90% of countries in the African region reported a complete or partial disruption of their oral health services between February and July 2020 while more than 530 million children suffer from dental cavities of milk teeth globally.
The global health body said oral diseases contribute a very sizeable quota to the burden of non-communicable diseases and affects not only the physical but mental health of children.
Now, Dr Adeniyan, a dental health expert, wants the federal government to pay attention to the need for teledentistry in Africa as a means of bringing oral health education to people in their homes through music, videos, TV shows and SMS.
She said a recent study conducted in rural Nigeria showed that many parents cannot afford as little as toothbrushes for their children while many young people have never received dental care.
”This is a disease that is quite preventable yet it is affecting a large number of African children. Our children are suffering from a silent yet preventable disease”, she said.
Speaking to DAILY POST in an exclusive interview, Dr. Adeniya decried that Nigeria and Africa, in general, has no effective oral health campaign for children.
She said Africa was not doing enough as a continent to spread the word on oral health among children, worrying that very few schools and communities have oral health education programs for children while those that do, only engage them once a year during the world oral health day.
”I think the oral health campaign for children in Africa can be better, less costly and effective if we meet them where they are at. Schools are a great place to start! We can do better”
When asked how effective continuous awareness creation is on the oral health of individuals, Dr. Adeniya said such campaigns have a huge role in changing the way people view their mouths and the kind of oral hygiene they practice.
She said ”from experience, the communities that have participated in oral health awareness and campaigns organized by governments and organizations have had more positive outcomes in their oral health status and improved oral health hygiene”.
”My team and I have an “oral health book read campaign” in schools to stir up oral health in children. This campaign brings children together to read oral health storybooks and share what they learn. One school, in particular, mentioned that the characters in the book affected the thinking of children around good oral health habits”.
Dr Adesiya has, however, expressed worry that the COVID-19 pandemic created huge uncertainty in dental care services in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
She said the 2020 lockdown across Africa meant that dental clinics were closed and community-based oral health programs put on hold, increasing the burden of oral health diseases among citizens.
”So as soon as dental clinics opened up, we had more people coming in with tooth pain. The pandemic led to a rise in mental health issues that contributed to unhealthy eating and neglect of hygienic practices.
”The pandemic also meant a lot of Africans were out of jobs, which meant affording basic dental care services for children became too high a cost to bear.
”Teledentistry is the future of dentistry and the pandemic has opened us up to the need to be able to bring oral health education to people in their homes”
She tasked parents to emphasise the importance of oral health for children by first modelling what they expect the children to see.
She maintained that parents and guardians have a huge role in the behaviour and life choices of children stressing that children learn faster by observation.
”If we want our children to brush twice a day, we as parents, we must do so also. We want them to use the right brushing technique, we must teach and show it to them. We want them to eat meals good for the teeth, we must go all the way to make them available. Good oral health for our children starts with us” she emphasised.