A report by the Preventive Dentistry Department of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) revealed that more than 90 per cent of Nigerians have dental caries, otherwise known as tooth decay. This is by far worse than the global average of 35 per cent. The worrisome aspect is that majority of the cases are left untreated, resulting in severe pain, tooth loss and sometimes complications that could lead to death, especially for those with low immunity. The report further said that periodontal disease (or gum infection) has been found in the range of 79 to 90 per cent of the total population and indicated that this might lead to increased morbidity in the nation. Although this study was conducted more than 20 years ago it is still relevant, as little has changed since then.
These dismal statistics are a direct reflection of the poor state of the nation’s healthcare system. It is reported that Nigeria is among the countries with the lowest life expectancy in the world at a bleak 52 years. Nigeria also still has one of the highest maternal and infant
mortality rates in the world. We are disturbed that even with these figures, successive governments have failed to upgrade the healthcare delivery system in the nation, especially in the rural areas where the situation is dire.
The budget for health care has remained relatively low and insufficient compared to other sectors such as defence and education. It is therefore imperative that this critical issue is addressed by the government. We suggest that any administration that comes in after this year’s elections must give the healthcare sector the priority it deserves. Immediately, there is the urgent need to address our dental care system and records must be updated to ensure that we have reliable statistics going forward. The government should create enough awareness among the populace on the need to take care of their general well-being, including their teeth.
To this end, all social institutions should be involved in the effort. For example, dentists should visit primary and secondary schools as was done in the past, and teach schoolchildren how to take proper care of their teeth. Awareness must be created on the need for everyone to visit the dentist at least once a year, where the gums and teeth will be examined and records on the state of one’s dental health taken and kept for future reference. Of necessity then, dentistry must be encouraged as a course of study to ensure the country has enough skilled personnel to meet the dental health needs of the people.
The relevant facilities and infrastructure must also be provided and regularly upgraded. Furthermore, we are of the opinion that a special day be set aside for dental care awareness in Nigeria. This day should be marked in all schools, places of work, markets and any place where people gather, and free dental consultation services and education offered.