Little data on oral hygiene awareness

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-There is no research or data available on Namibians’ awareness of oral hygiene and subsequently oral diseases.

In an interview with the New Era on the status of oral hygiene in the country, the head of the University of Namibia (Unam)’ School of Dentistry, Professor Risto Tuominen said, “We don’t have any research or data on how well aware people are of oral diseases.”

A 2010-2011 oral health study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Services only surveyed 12-year-olds, Tuominen added.

“So, we have some information on dental health between 2010 and 2011 among 12-year-olds. But we have no information on what the situation is among adults and younger children,” added Tuominen.

It is thus imperative for the dental school to run research programmes, which will bring information for policy makers and the Ministry of Health and Social Services on oral health in the country, Tuominen said.

“That will tell us on people’s awareness on dental and oral health,” the professor remarked.
Despite the lack of adequate data on oral health in the country, it remains certain that Namibia urgently needs a lot of dentists, said Tuominen. There are dental services in Windhoek but these services are scarce beyond the boundaries of Windhoek.

“Most dentists are concentrated mostly in Khomas Region. When we go out of Windhoek, we find a couple in Swakopmund, maybe one in Keetmanshoop, one in Gobabis, and a couple in the north. At least 90 percent are located in Khomas Region and that is a problem,” said Tuominen.

“People have to travel hundreds of kilometres just to get dental treatment,” further stated Tuominen.
Meanwhile, the most common oral illnesses in Namibia are dental caries where bacteria causes holes in the teeth, revealed Tuominen.

“People call it cavities and the more people eat sugary food and drink soft drinks, the more common dental caries become,” said Tuominen.

Dental caries are a behavioural disease, which can be controlled. Sadly, it is increasing, said the professor.
Another health problem is periodontitis, a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports the teeth. 

“Periodontitis can cause teeth to loosen or lead to tooth loss. This is caused when we don’t brush our teeth well enough,” said Tuominen. Periodontitis is also a common cause of bad breath, he added.
“That is the major cause of bad breath. Also if you have a lot of dental caries, it causes bad breath. But usually, it is caused by infected gums. These are common problems but they are not so severe, much more severe are the different kinds of oral cancers,” he explained.

Oral cancer is relatively common in Namibia, he added.
“Lips and gums are very sensitive to extra radiation and that is why over the years, people develop oral cancer in equatorial and tropical countries, much more than in the north where there is limited sunshine and that is a big problem because it can kill you if untreated,” he said.

Smoking is also a major concern because smokers place cigarettes into their mouths. “The nicotine and other components in cigarettes first irritate the mouth before going to the lungs. So, the less you smoke, the better,” Tuominen concluded.

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