NEWS

Oral health care still daunting problem

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DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
ALL her life she believed that the only solution to toothache is extraction. But her recent visit to Lusaka's Champ Zambia ChaisaCentre recently made her realise that there are other solutions to toothache.
Bridget Phiri, 37, says on a date she cannot remember but in the last week of July, 2015, she went to Champ Zambia Chaisa Centre for a dental check-up. This was after word went round that a United States of America (USA) couple would be in the area to provide dental services.
Boston-based doctors, Bill and Pilar Papadopoulos are experts in dental services and run a project called Project SmileWell. The couple was in Chaisa to provide dental services to the people in the area for four days.
Ms Phiri says accessing dental health in her area has been a big challenge.
"We have problems accessing health care services here especially dental. Whenever one has a dental problem, medical staff will quickly advise extraction. I am surprised to learn there is such a thing as tooth filing," Ms Phiri said.
Ms Phiri first visited a nearby dentist, where she was told one of her wisdom teeth had to be extracted. However, as an unemployed, single mother, she opted not to go through with the procedure because she had no money. She endured the pain.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, she developed a headache which caused the side of her face to swell. At the clinic, she was prescribed pain-killers, which cost K15 and antibiotics, which cost K35.
Unable to afford both, she bought only the pain-killers. And because she was able to suppress the pain over the next few days, the infection spread to jaws and she had to undergo an operation.
This is not a one-off tragedy. Like Ms Phiri, majority of Zambians especially in the rural areas and low-income bracket do not have access to dental health services due to the high cost and scarcity of the services.
It is because of such cases that the vision carriers of SmileWell project decided to come to Zambia to conduct dental services. Project SmileWell specialises in dental services. The project was implemented in Chaisa recently.
Dr Papadopoulos says what started as a dream began to show fruition in February 2015 when he visited Zambia and consolidated his dream with Champ.
"My dream is not to come to Zambia and remove hundreds of teeth. Zambians have beautiful teeth and it hates me to just come here and remove their teeth. What I noticed is that there is a huge demand and underservice in the community regarding dental health services.
"If we can start somewhere, it's a good start. We need to do more on awareness, and help educate and train more people on dental services. We have set up an online initiative, where we can share books with the Dental Training School here. It pained me to see that the dental school does not have enough books," Dr Papadopoulos said.
Oral health, which comprises good oral health care, hygiene and adequate nutrition, is a vital component of one’s overall health.
According to Dr Pilar, people with limited access to preventive oral health services are at greater risk of oral diseases.
"I see the necessity for basic dental home care, most of the questions we were getting were based on how they can prevent dental illnesses, and we need to look at the prevention part. There is a huge gap," Dr Pilar said.
Dr Pilar said providing dental care for those in need is the driving force for their project.
"In co-operation with the Ministry of Health, and amazing local organisations; such as Champ, we have run a four-day event. We setup a five tent clinics to of fer various dental services. We invited one orphanage to bring in their children for dental services and activities," Dr Pilar said.
Oral health care remains the greatest unmet health need for children. Insufficient access to oral health care and effective preventive services affects children's health, education, and ability to prosper. Early dental visits teach children that oral health is important.
According to research, children who receive oral health care early in life are more likely to have a good attitude about oral health professionals and dental visits. Pregnant women who receive oral health care are more likely to take their children for oral health care.