WORLD ORAL DAY

Good oral hygiene key to thriving overall health

Dental care should be a priority, essential and must continue because it is a valuable part of our individual and collective public health

In Summary

• Families have neglected their basic oral health habits, with four percentage drops in twice-daily brushing habit for adults

• Fewer people are brushing their teeth twice a day in comparison to two years ago.

Good oral hygiene
Good oral hygiene
Image: OZONE

Emergence of Covid-19 has and continues to create a plethora of challenges to the global economy and its associated healthcare systems, including dentistry.

Due to shortage of data on the virus, medics have had to rely on mathematical modelling and plans developed from previous healthcare emergencies to contain its spread. As it evolves, it is crucial that policymakers understand the difference between the science and the real-world evidence so that policy can adapt rapidly to the changing environment.

It invites ridicule to try and predict what will happen in the coming years, but the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 are likely to increase vulnerability among the already vulnerable. The delivery of dental care is also likely to be more problematic and more expensive. More than ever, we need to reduce the burden of avoidable dental disease, even as we marked World Oral Day on Saturday.

This is why a new study by global consumer goods company Unilever reveals an interesting trend during this pandemic. The survey shows that people are brushing their teeth less and parents are leading in this malpractice. Children have copied the habit from their parents and are brushing far less frequently.

While the study of nearly 7,000 participants reveals an overall positive shift in attitudes and behaviours towards the importance of physical and mental health during the pandemic, oral healthcare, which is the cornerstone of good overall health, is suffering and appears neglected.

The study found that families have neglected their basic oral health habits, with four percentage drops in twice-daily brushing habit for adults, and a staggering nine per cent drop in the practice for children.

The study also found that fewer people are brushing their teeth twice a day in comparison to two years ago. Five per cent less adults are brushing twice a day and 11 per cent less children are touching the brush to clean their teeth in a day.

Furthermore, one in four children are not brushing their teeth day and night, and 40 per cent of adults have reported going entire days without brushing.

It may be tempting to put off dental care because you have become lazy or have questions about safety or new procedures in dental care but doing so puts your oral health, and consequently your overall health, at greater risk.

Our collective experiences during the pandemic only serve to reinforce the fact that dental care should be a priority, essential and must continue because it is a valuable part of our individual and collective public health.

Issues like children infrequently brushing their teeth or not brushing at all, if not identified and rectified early enough, can develop into more serious problems that become more painful, more complicated and more expensive to manage.

Your mouth is also a window to your body’s health. Research has linked oral infections that spread throughout the body to dementia, heart disease and other life-threatening health challenges. That is why healthcare workers should take studies like the one commissioned by Unilever seriously and use those findings to improve provision of healthcare.

It is, therefore, important to revisit the issue of encouraging parents and children to brush day and night, to create a positive lifelong routine for the entire family and ensure good oral health. This behaviour change is being encouraged as a result of our research findings which show the actions of parents have a startling influence on their children, with kids seven times likely to skip brushing when their parent does not brush twice a day.

Why is it important to brush day and night? It is crucial in preventing tooth decay, the world’s most widespread disease.

While losing teeth is a natural part of growing up, oral pain related to cavities and tooth decay is not. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 by the World Health Organization estimated that oral diseases affect half of the world’s population — 3.9 billion people — with tooth decay being cited as the most common.

While this might seem like a minor complaint, tooth decay can have a big knock-on effect on health, well-being, and productivity of an individual and a country.

WHO opines that toothache is the number one reason for children missing school in many countries, especially developing ones like Kenya. The correlation to adverse effects on educational standards cannot therefore be ignored.

Tooth decay is 90 per cent preventable with the main arsenal touted as regular day and night brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, reduced sugary snacking and regular visits to a dentist.

The writer is Beauty and Personal Care director, Unilever East Africa

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