Oral Health Should be a Development Priority

BY: Adekemi Adeniyan —

The mouth is a barometer of social inequities — it reflects the injustices in our society. As George Cuvier, an 18th century naturalist said: “Show me your teeth, and I will tell you who you are”. To me, as a dentist, the mouth is like a microscope that reveals more than just tooth decay. It exposes us to a world where people lack access to water, health, quality education and live on low income.

So, when the FDI World Dental Federation unveils a “Be Proud of Your Mouth” campaign for World Oral Health Day (WOHD) 2021 celebrated on March 20, it needs to go beyond encouraging individuals to adopt good oral health routines such as brushing and flossing. It also needs to urge countries, leaders, policymakers and communities to tackle the social inequities that affect the mouth. It starts from addressing the social determinants of oral health.

Research by the World Health Organization shows that the social conditions in which people live have a great influence on their health and has linked increases in oral health diseases to social determinants such as education, income, food, race, and geographical location.

As a rural dentist working with vulnerable and underserved communities in Nigeria, I’ve had first-hand experience working with children at risk of oral health diseases, such as dental caries, Noma, and dental fluorosis. Most of them brush their teeth daily, but they lack access to clean water, nutritious food, and dental care facilities. Their teeth pay the price.