Written by Modupe George, Kemi Aremu and Joan Omionawele Friday, 12 October 2012
Written by Modupe George Friday, 05 October 2012
Dr (Mrs) Bisi Ladokun is a dental surgeon at the Oyo State Hospitals Management Board, Ibadan. She shares with Modupe George in this interview, the secrets to maintaining good oral health, why there is need for everyone to go for routine cleaning of their mouth and visit a dentist twice in a year. Excerpt:
What prompted you into choosing dentistry as a career?
Since I was a little girl, I have always loved to take care of people; to be there when people need help, especially when they are sick. My mum always said that I have a very caring heart, as a kid. When I got to the senior class in the secondary school, I joined the science class, where I later developed a passion for medical sciences. Though, I initially applied for medicine in the university, but I was offered dentistry. I discovered the course has also given me the opportunity to come closer to people, even though at the time, I did not know what it all entailed. As I went on in the profession, I realised that I can as well give care to people in pain; this gives me joy and happiness.
It seems there are more women in dentistry than men, why is this so?
When I was growing up, I knew about having more men than women in the profession, but now, the reverse is the case. I think females are more compassionate. In the olden days, the girls were less educated than the men, but today, people are more focused on educating the girl-child, it is even part of the Millennium Development Goals. These days, girls are coming out and are being made to realise that they too can achieve great things in life. Women are doing great and are excelling in whatever profession they find themselves.
It appears less value is placed on oral health, what can you say is responsible for this attitude?
I looked around and I found out that many people feel that maintaining a good oral health is not a big deal. They feel as long as they are able to eat, nothing else is important. The most important thing they use their mouth to do is eat and talk. I have observed that people in our society don’t take good care of their oral health. What they have failed to realise is that the mouth is the gateway to the body and once the mouth is not in order, the entire body is not in order. People look down on their oral cavity, they often say it is not important, after-all, it’s not like the eyes, liver or kidney, and they don’t understand that the gateway is as important as other organs.
How best can the oral cavity be taken care of?
Every normal person should make it a priority to maintain a good oral health. When I wake up in the morning, the aim of brushing my teeth should not be because I don’t want it to smell when I’m talking to the other person; that is the smallest place to start from. One of the best ways towards maintaining good oral health is to brush one’s teeth twice daily. Brushing the teeth as the last thing at night is more important than the one done in the morning. By so doing, we would have given ourselves a good start. Maintaining a good oral health for someone with a disease-free mouth requires close monitoring. Another thing to do is to visit the dentist twice in a year. Once this is done, one would have done oneself a whole lot of good. Some of us would think there is nothing wrong with our teeth, but it is important to note that oral diseases develop slowly. Sometimes, one might have problems with one’s mouth and it might have been there for over five years. Some people would even say, “I just slept and woke up and my mouth got swollen.” Others would say at a point, “my mouth was paining me, but after I ate, it left,” hence, they forget all about it. If we do not have a regular\routine check up, we would not be able to discover what the actual problem is. If any problem occurred, your dentist would be able to detect it and then treat it on time. Another thing to do when one comes for ‘check up’ is the ‘Routine Cleaning.’ I have seen the richest of the rich open their mouth and as a dentist, I feel embarrassed. So, it is not about you having money to buy the most expensive tooth paste or brush, but it’s about how often you come for cleaning and check up. The dirt in our mouth can’t just be removed by brushing our teeth; it’s not too much if we come for check up at least twice a year.
Can poor oral health affect a person’s physical or intellectual growth?
Yes, it can. When one has a poor oral health, various kinds of diseases would definitely develop, and such a person would have to remove his or her teeth later. And that is why you would see somebody who is a 45 to 50-year-old looking like a 60-year-old. When we lose our teeth, it affects the contour and physical shape of the mouth. When God made us the way He did; He made us well, and made us have teeth at the right time. He also made us keep these teeth for the number of years that we are supposed to keep them. If you lose the teeth prematurely, you are creating problem for yourself.
When should mothers start cleaning the mouth of babies?
As a mother, whether the child is breast-feeding or not, so far the child is taking in through the mouth, ensure that the baby’s mouth is cleaned with either cotton wool or a piece of gauze /cloth and warm water. I am sure everybody has access to this. You can also use little glycerin of Borax too and in case you cannot access glycerin, get a small handkerc-hief that would be dedicated for this purpose only, dip it in warm water and use it to clean your baby’s mouth once or twice daily.
Within six months after the birth of the baby, he/she would start to grow some teeth and the moment you notice these growing in your baby’s mouth, it is time to start using tooth brush because this tooth is coming in to a mouth full of milk, which contains so many things that can cause holes. Some of us give our babies food through feeding bottles and when we do, the milk has a way of accumulating in the baby’s mouth and it can destroy her teeth even before they become fully developed. Apart from this, it is a way of sensitising the baby to get used to ‘tooth brushing’ for the rest of his or her life. From time to time, he would learn the habit of brushing. This is the proper way to take care of a baby’s mouth.
How important are healthy teeth to a child’s overall health?
Healthy teeth have a very serious consequence on the overall health of the child. As the baby’s teeth grow, if they are not well taken care of, there would be problems. We have two-year-olds coming for treatment. This happens especially in babies that are bottle-fed, because some mothers would put the milk in bottles and leave it in their babies mouth till morning. This destroys the baby’s teeth and by the time the child begins to grow, he begins to have brown teeth, then we begin to see two or three-year-old children having severe pain in their mouth. You can imagine a mother who has three kids with one of them giving her sleepless nights due to swelling and pain. Many times we have had causes to remove children’s teeth; some of them were below age five. Sometimes the tooth would not be replaced till the child is 10 or 11. Meanwhile, this gap has an overall implication on the child’s mouth, because the teeth that are meant to stay for eight years have stayed for just two years, definitely this six-year gap would cause some problems, because God made one to replace the other.
How important is a person’s diet to his/her oral health?
It is very important. We all know that what we eat is what we are. Beyond that, what we eat has direct effect on us. All the things we eat during the day could get stuck in our mouths, but brushing at night would remove the remnants. The bacteria in our mouths would react and cause damage to the teeth, even when we take fruits. We must avoid acidic fruits, because they have negative effects on the teeth. For instance, when we take oranges, we should try as much as possible to squeeze them instead of sucking directly, because oranges or citrus products are acidic in nature. It is also important to rinse the mouth after taking such fruits; it helps to reduce the acidic reaction. We must also avoid sweet drinks/juice. Even those who cannot afford the common juice should buy soda and drink. It is advised that we take these drinks with straws and not directly from the bottle, so as to keep our mouth in good taste and as much as we can take water after taking any acidic or sweet things.
Can a degenerated or chronic oral health lead to death?
Poor oral health can aggravate heart disease, which may eventually cause great havoc. For a person who already has a poor heart condition, some of the micro-organisms in the heart can aggravate the already existing heart condition. The only oral condition that can lead to death is cancer of the mouth, which is not very common. It is not so common, but it happens. We’ve had people with swollen mouths, and we found out that some of them were cancerous, while some were just benign tumors; meaning they cannot spread.
Is oral problem hereditary?
We have seen cases of people who have poor oral health and have come out to say that it runs in their families. A lot of times, we realise that it is because many of them have poor oral habits, but parents don’t know that what they do is what their children would copy. If you like sweet things, you would most likely buy them for your children, and if these sweet things create holes in your teeth, it would surely create holes in theirs too. If you are the type, who does not clean your teeth regularly, there’s no way you would motivate your children to do so. I have discovered that the similarities in the habits of parents are the same in their children. But there is a lot of research going on to establish whether there is really a genetic link. In some places, we have discovered that there are some particular blood groups that are prone to some kind of oral diseases, but it is not fully established yet. We have also found out that there are some particular oral diseases that are common to some blood groups in some countries, so we cannot establish that this thing is really hereditary, but I believe that if a parent has a good oral habit and they eat the right things, they can motivate the children and they would learn from them.
It has been observed that people shy away from dental check-ups as a result of the expensive charges, how affordable are the services?
Dental treatment is expensive everywhere in the world and this is because it is not about you saying “my stomach, is paining me” and you are given drugs and you go. It is something you use equipment for, and they are very expensive to get. These are not materials you can just get anywhere. Even in places where general supplies are stocked, dental supplies are not stocked because they could buy one and not sell any in 10 years. It is expensive to run a dental clinic and that is why the treatment is expensive. However, in Oyo State, you can get the cheapest dental treatment in government hospitals, even though there are some kinds of treatments that you may not be able to get. It’s even more expensive abroad, because I know some people who come to clean their teeth before they travel out of the country. The practice is like this anywhere in the world, but it is cheaper in Nigeria.
What mouth diseases should people look out for while taking care of their mouths?
The most common disease is dental caries, we also have gingivitis, that is inflamed gums. When one brushes and sees blood it means gingivitis has set in, and this can lead to something serious. Another one is periodontitis, this is when gingivitis has progressed. This occurs when one has a shaky tooth, some people’s tooth would shake so much that it would almost lie down, and then we would know that it is already moving out of position. When abscesses in the mouth are left untreated, they can spread to some parts of the body. Recently, a patient who had abscess and probably had kept it for over 20 days came to us and it had already swollen and spread up to his scalp, which might eventually lead to his brain and then death. This kind of a swollen can lead to death if not properly taken care of.
What advice do you have for the general public on oral health?
A simple one, don’t run away from your dentist. Clean your mouth twice a day; don’t wait until the tooth is paining you. When you notice food hiding somewhere in your teeth, it is time to rinse. Brush your teeth twice a day, especially at night; also visit the dentist twice a year even if all he\she would do for you is just to clean your mouth. Furthermore, the moment you notice that there is a hole, it is time to go for consultation. When you go for consultation and there is nothing wrong, it is better than getting to the stage of having to pull out the tooth.