Sunday, 21 January 2018
Reviving oral healthcare in Nigeria

Reviving oral healthcare in Nigeria

While oral health is vital, it remains neglected and underdeveloped in Nigeria. John Amhanesi reports.

Oral health is a vital aspect of the general health of an individual, yet it’s one of the most neglected and underdeveloped aspect of healthcare in Nigeria. Although it is widely acclaimed in recent past that Nigerians possess a healthy set of teeth with an entire absence of oral health problems. Lately, that claim has appeared to be a myth as over 4.6 million Nigerians between the ages of 3 to 70 visit dental clinics yearly regardless of the low level of oral health awareness and bad conditions of dental practice. This means that there’s an ample number of Nigerians who are still living with poor oral health status if compared with present statistics of dental patronage.

According to statistical report from FDI (World Dental Federation) the umbrella body of dental health and practice in the world, about 3.9 billion people around the world suffer from oral diseases ranging from the simplest ache to intricate tumours.

The deficit in oral health knowledge, shortage of dental practitioners and poor state of dental facilities and equipment are core reasons for the low oral health awareness in Nigeria. Oral health services in Nigeria are mostly offered in regional or central hospitals in urban centres and little priority is given to preventive and restorative dental care which cover a lion share of general dental problems. The current dearth of oral health personnel makes the capacity of the systems limited to pain relief or emergency care.

Nigeria has a fast rising population with a slack political foundation and weak economic system. It has a high birthrate, high poverty rate and a poor health system to cater for the need of citizens who would rather not care about their oral health because they considered it trifling and inconsequential due to personal scale of preference. Although the blame on the citizens cannot be total because humans are innately moved by instances that appear serious and dangerous, therefore one would not blame a maternal mother who is forced to pay attention to her child’s bleeding limb over what she’ll term a mere cleft lip.

Despite this unstable socioeconomic distribution among the Nigeria population, it still has a deplorable dentist to population ratio of about 1:35000 as against a 1:2000 in most First World countries.

Just as the eyes may be the window to the soul, the mouth is a window to the body’s health. The state of oral health can offer a lot of clues about the overall health as these are more closely connected than one might realise. Oral health is connected to many health conditions beyond the mouth, and indeed, sometimes the first sign of a disease may show up in the mouth. The mouth is normally teeming with bacteria, and some researchers have proven that these oral bacteria are linked with other general health problems including heart disease, maternal mortality, diabetes and congenital defects. Nevertheless, the likelihood of oral diseases resulting in other general medical complications is relatively slim, but there are other severe diseases which can affect the oral cavity such as oral cancer, gum and periodontal inflammation, benign and malignant tumour, abscess and several craniofacial malformations.

Other than the medical and dental consequences of poor oral health hygiene, there is a psychosocial defect on an person with dental complications. For instance, halitosis or bad breathe can impede someone’s speech freedom which could lead to low self esteem. Also malocclusion or misaligned set of teeth can completely reduce the tendency of a person to smile, and all these could lead to depression in the long run.

The present state of the nation’s oral healthcare requires urgent resuscitation, and In order to improve it one must concede that social class should not be important in determining access to health care services as this would adversely impact on the decision to visit the general dentist.

The following recommendations should be considered.

(1). Professional preventive oral health care could be made free.
(2). Flouride application programmes as a part of public health care should be provided.
(3). The general dentist should shift from a treatment-oriented model to a prevention-oriented model under the cost-concentrated policy.
(4).Pressure should be put on policies to shift towards remodeling statutory dental health insurance schemes towards a cost-effective model. Therefore, the scheme should strategically allocate dental expenditure between public and private sectors.
(5). General dental practitioners all over the country must prepare themselves to deliver oral health care to all patients of all ages, promote oral health across the population including children, adolescents and older people in both low and socially disadvantaged groups.
(6). Research in oral health should not be a left out.
(7). It is NDA’s (Nigeria Dental Assosiation) recommendation that dental visits to the general dental practitioner begin not later than a child’s first birthday to establish a “dental home”. Dentists can provide guidance to children and parents, and diagnose and treat dental diseases in its earliest stages. This will help both children and adults to maintain optimal oral health throughout their lifetimes.

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