THE dental care system is a very important part of the health care system because it deals with oral health and hygiene. It is quite surprising to know that such an important aspect is so neglected that it now has little or no value among Nigerians.
The Nigerian general health care system is poorly developed with no adequate infrastructure, unprofessional personnel, weeping mis-management, etc. especially in rural areas. According to the 2009 communique of the Nigerian National Health Conference; health care system remains weak as evidenced by lack of co-ordination, fragmentation of services, dearth of resources including drugs and supplies, accessibility, etc.
The dental care system as part of the general health care system is no exception. Imagine a country with a ratio of less than one dentist to hundreds of persons; It is quite alarming that majority of the population have never visited a dentist except for a few who have had serious dental problems. Many people have by this consolidated ignorance and erroneous attitude come to believe that as long as you don’t have any serious dental problem, there is no need to see a dentist and to take care of your teeth. The only care necessary is to brush them. Of course, we know that only very few endeavor to brush twice a day; pure ignorance! That’s all there is to this because these people don’t know that there is more to oral hygiene than they thought and there are other cases or illnesses that can arise as a result of negligence on their part to do the right thing.
A more disturbing fact is that even if people decide to start doing that which is right, there are no dental clinics accessible to them to do so. That is why there is a great need to establish these dental clinics in both rural and urban areas.
Present state of dental awareness in Nigeria
‘World Oral Health Day’; this will ring a bell of surprise to the ears of most Nigerians because they don’t know when it does happen or what it’s all about. This low awareness stemming from low priority given to the dental care system isn’t quite commendable. The focus of the health system is more on life threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, etc. with the dental cases receiving anemic attention without knowing that although, not always life threatening, it is still a major health problem.
The present state of dental health awareness in Nigeria is so low. Most TV adverts focused only on the urban areas which are only concerned with introducing a particular brand of toothpaste and not really getting the public enlightened on the importance of oral hygiene, going to see a dentist at least once a year or even on the cases that may arise as a result of lack of oral hygiene.
Dental related issues /illness in Nigeria caused by negligence or absence of dental clinics.
Tooth aches, decays and gum diseases are not the only dental issues that people could suffer from as many presume. There are numerous dental related illnesses that can come up as a result of negligence or absence of dental clinics in the urban and rural areas. They include:
Diabetes- high intake of sugar is not just the only cause of diabetes. Diabetes and dentistry are in tandem and research has shown that there is an increased prevalence of gum disease with those suffering from diabetes. This is because serious gum diseases have the potential to affect blood glucose control leading to increase in diabetes which of course most people don’t know about.
Oral and gum cancer- breast, prostate, cervical, lung, liver cancers etc. although more common, are not just the only type of cancers. Poor oral hygiene can cause oral or gum cancers which can affect speech, eating, chewing, etc. and it can even spread throughout the body creating new cancerous cells.
Overbite- this is a dental condition where the upper teeth extends and covers the lower teeth. This is a very common condition but most people don’t realize this because their overbite isn’t serious enough to seek dental attention.
Death- in very complicated cases, death can occur in people with low immunity.
Other conditions include: Underbite, Tooth loss,TMJ (a disorder affecting the Temboromandibular joint), Bad breath (halitosis), etc.
Benefits of establishing dental clinics in rural and urban areas
Enlightenment- with dental clinics being established in these areas, most people will come to know of the importance and benefits of oral hygiene they were ignorant of and they will be motivated to improve on it.
Proximity- with these established dental clinics in both rural and urban areas, it will be easily accessible to people without them having to go far to get these treatments and checkups.
Increased health standard- providing dental clinics in these areas will help raise the health standard of the people because in taking care of their teeth and oral region, they will progress to keeping other parts clean thereby maintaining a total wellbeing.
Self –confidence – people with halitosis for instance are always shy expressing themselves in public but with dental clinics around them, these conditions can be dealt with
Also, with establishment of dental clinics in both urban and rural areas, more people will tend to find dentistry a quite important and specialized field of study and taking up this course will lead to producing experts that will be very useful in this field.
Role of government in providing dental health services
The government has a major role to play in this establishment and they include:
Proper funding and attention should be given to oral health and this can be done by including dentistry in the budget because it is quite surprising to know that none of the three arms of government have dentistry in their budget.
Providing functional dental clinics with adequate facilities in urban and rural areas. With dental equipment being so expensive, most dentists are discouraged from setting up individual practice, but with the government assistance in providing these equipment, dental services will be easily provided.
Seeing that the ratio of dentist to the population is very high, the government should provide adequate training institutions to produce experts in dentistry and also encourage dentistry research and training of dental personnel.
The government should also introduce a program that will incorporate dentistry alongside other medical cases i.e. examining patients’ teeth, gums etc. when they visit hospitals to be treated for other conditions and this program should also involve keeping good dental record for future purposes.
Provision of dental insurance to deal with cost because most Nigerians believe dental treatments are expensive, but with the insurance being introduced, cost-related problems will be solved.
The government can also help to increase awareness by setting aside a special day in school, work places, market or any gathering to make people understand the interconnection between oral health and general well-being and free dental consultation service can be offered that day.
Also providing mobile dental units to visit remote places in these areas will go a long way to improve dental health services.
From these deliberations, it can be seen that there is a great and urgent need to establish and equip dental clinics in both rural and urban areas. Providing these clinics is not just enough but provision of adequate personnel to render the required services as well and also working on the perfect awareness strategy that will capture the audience attention and motivate them to see oral hygiene as a very important aspect of total wellbeing. In a nutshell, three basic E’s are needed, Establishing the clinics, Equipping these clinics and in turn Encouraging the audience whose oral health is in a sorry state and needs urgent help.