Dental problems do not happen overnight, for that reason, dental caries, which is an infectious condition that deteriorates the structure of teeth, happens due to the presence of unmindful daily habits and lack of knowledge about oral care practices.
The prominent reason for dental caries is the effect of acids on teeth enamel, which breaks down the outer protective cover of the teeth, exposing the inner layers.
You might not be able to spot any symptoms in the early stages but if care is not taken from the very beginning, it might end up as a major serious problem that might even be fatal1.
According to the Global Burden of Disease study, a huge population across the globe lacks oral care, as a result, it not only influences their oral health but also has a significant impact on various aspects of their health such as:
- Lack of proper physical development due to improper chewing habits
- Absenteeism from schools
- Lack of concentration in education, and thus poor academic performance
- Poor, unacknowledged oral health1
Dental caries infection is on the decline in advanced nations, thanks to improved dental services and mindfulness about oral care2. However, in low-income nations the prevalence of dental caries is high.
Sub-Saharan Africa has different prevalence rates depending on the region. Dental caries in children is 40.98%, 52.4%, and 50.3%, in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya respectively 2. On the other, a recent study reported that the prevalence of early childhood caries in South Africa is 60% (children ages <6 years) 2.
Some of the major factors responsible for the poor dental health in African nations include:
- Too much sugar intake
- Improper brushing techniques
- Lack of proper dental facilities
- Lack of oral care education
- Fear of going to a dentist (a real one for kids)2
Dental Care Status in Africa
Although there is abundant data on pediatric caries rates, there is no indication that dental problems in children are better addressed in Africa.
The most common dental procedure done in a primary oral health care center is pain alleviation, whereas oral health programs in educational institutes are not improperly managed, and lack rigorous assessment.
This has significant consequences on the health of the public, especially children. As a result, there is a necessity for community empowerment in the performance of oral health clinical services3.
Dental Caries and African children
In adults, there is a well-established link between education and dental health and studies have shown parents who have a lower level of education also lack the medical and dental care knowledge to manage oral health hygiene in their children timely4.
Research study has shown self-image of children, mainly in the schooling years, has a tremendous impact on their future vision towards themselves and also their life goals.
Imagine a 5-year-old kid going to school every day, carrying this dental ailment, not allowed to smile openly or talk to anybody because of the shame it brings. How will that impact performance in school and will the kid be able to consider themselves as good as others?
Undoubtedly, the 5-year-old might find it difficult to express their feelings and avoid speaking to anyone. They might be laughed at by their friends or not paid equal attention to by their teachers. Are these reasons not enough to take this drawback seriously4?
In Africa, the fact that a large number of children suffer dental caries at more advanced stages of decay explains why they have a higher risk of experiencing a negative influence on the quality of life (OHRQoL)4.
Severe dental caries infection has been linked to a detrimental influence on preschool children and their families’ OHRQoL. On the other hand, younger children and households with educated mothers had better OHRQoL4. It presents that education plays a critical role in enhancing the oral health status of African children.
The creative planning process, creating a safe environment, education, community engagement, and reorienting health care delivery are all key components of health promotion approaches3.
Consequently, schools, clinics, and other health promotion settings offer a feasible platform for addressing unmet oral health needs through comprehensive and integrated strategies and treatments.
Also, oral health promotion strategies and interventions should endeavor to target women getting prenatal care, mothers, children, youth, and adolescents5.
Due to their ability to reach all children and thereby address socioeconomic inequalities, school-based oral health programs should provide further support for oral health promotion efforts.
A holistic approach to mother and child health care, including attempts to stimulate greater fluoride absorption, dietary consumption, and safe breastfeeding habits, might give solutions to combat the dental caries problem3.
African governments, various Ministries of Health, and Nongovernmental Organizations must endeavor to do more in addressing dental caries as well as dental care in Africans. More efforts should be taken to avoid dental disease and improve the oral health status of children in Africa.
One such Nongovernmental Organization that is striving to accomplish these goals is the Emmanuel Osemota Foundation (EOF).
EOF delivers free dental-care outreach programs that specifically aim to close the gap between marginalized people and their dental care, offering free treatment and preventative measures to those who need them the most.
In addition, EOF medical outreach programs provide a range of patient services, such as education, vaccines, and routine check-ups. These programs are free and frequently provide the skills and training needed to combat the region’s most avoidable and prevalent ailments, such as HIV and vaccine-preventable diseases (VPD).
EOF community outreach also provides resources and commodities to help these underprivileged groups, thereby empowering them to be self-sustainable.
Join us today as we seek to do more in our local communities.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota
- Kimmie-Dhansay F, Barrie R, Naidoo S, Roberts TS. Prevalence of Early Childhood Caries in South Africa: Protocol for a Systematic Review. JMIR Res Protoc. 2021;10(8):e25795. Published 2021 Aug 3. doi:10.2196/25795
- Teshome A, Muche A and Girma B (2021) Prevalence of Dental Caries and Associated Factors in East Africa, 2000–2020: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front. Public Health 9:645091.
- Singh, Dental caries rates in South Africa: implications for oral health planning, South Afr J Epidemiol Infect 2011;26(4)(Part II):259-261
- Ramos-Jorge J, Alencar BM, Pordeus IA, Soares MEC, Marques LS, Ramos-Jorge ML, Paiva SM. Impact of dental caries on quality of life among preschool children: emphasis on the type of tooth and stages of progression. Eur J Oral Sci 2015; 123: 88–95
- Pine C.M, et al. An Intervention Programme to establish Regular Toothbrushing: Understanding Parents’ Beliefs and Motivating Children. International Dental Journal 2000; 50: 312-323