I met a beautiful Kenyan mother of two in her mid-30s during the recent International Women’s Day.
When she found out I was a dentist, she excitedly informed me that her dentist was the one who helped diagnose her rheumatoid arthritis during a routine dental examination.
A few others listening in around us were mesmerised but also bewildered as to how a “tooth carer” of all people could diagnose a condition that did not (directly) involve teeth.
Marked on the March 20 every year, this year’s theme for World Oral Health Day ‘Say Ahh: Act on Mouth Health’ aims to prompt individuals to take the onus of responsibility of their oral health.
This means you taking simple but effective actions to prevent oral diseases and in doing so, indirectly also safeguarding your general health.
This does not mean that your dentist solely would or should be able to diagnose your non-oral health issues but the emphasis created here is more on managing risk factors whilst simultaneously seeking regular oral examinations, hygiene and any other necessary treatment in a timely manner, in the interest of your and more importantly, your children’s wellness.
Dental health in Kenya is notably taken for granted. Some truly educated people I know and come to treat think that if nothing in their mouth hurts, they’re fine.
Then, they subconsciously instil these notions in the minds of their children and then their grandchildren. Funnily enough, high cholesterol doesn’t hurt either, but it’s a big problem.
In Kenya, oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease among others, are a major public health problem owing not only to their high prevalence and incidence mostly in a deprived and socially marginalised section of the society but also, among the socially affluent communities.
Your mouth is a gateway to your body. Good oral health allows us to eat, speak and socialise with little or no discomfort and embarrassment.
Research proves that there is a synergistic relationship between oral health and overall wellness. Having been in clinical practice between the UK and Kenya for nearly 12 years now, I have found that in Kenya there is somewhat widespread apathy, ignorance of a sort or simply, an incredible lack of awareness regarding the broader role of a dentist in the care and well-being of physical and mental health.
When a crisis arises, it is often a sign that you have let things go too far. Why is it that the vast majority of the population does not understand that their mouth is part of their body too?
One reason could be because these diseases are not deemed as life-threatening and hence there is a minimal emphasis on an education, healthcare and government level on increasing their awareness and deploying tangible preventive strategies on a local and nationwide level.
Additionally, many systemic conditions such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lupus, anaemia, leukaemia, vitamin deficiencies, various autoimmune diseases, and HIV can have distinct oral manifestations and your dentist could play a vital role in the diagnosis and management of these conditions holistically.
However, this is only possible if one were to attend for regular dental examinations, allowing for problems to be spotted early, ensuring the best outcomes against oral disease and associated health complications.
If you or your children haven’t had your dental check-up in the last six months, let today be a gentle reminder for you to arrange that. Have a happy World Oral Health Day.
The writer is a General Dental Practitioner, BDS (UK).