News / Africa

Study: Bad Teeth, Gums Major Problems

Doctor Abdul Salam, a dentist, checks a cavity of villager Gul Mohammad at his clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday Dec.14, 2002. People living in villages often come to the city for medical check ups, as there are no doctors in the villages. (AP Photo/
Doctor Abdul Salam, a dentist, checks a cavity of villager Gul Mohammad at his clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday Dec.14, 2002. People living in villages often come to the city for medical check ups, as there are no doctors in the villages. (AP Photo/

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
A new report says nearly four-billion people – more than half the world’s population – have major tooth decay, or cavities. Health officials warn that poor oral health can lead to social and psychological problems.


Professor Wagner Marcenes led of team of researchers as part of the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. It listed untreated tooth decay, or cavities, as the most common of all 291 major diseases and injuries.

“It was a massive effort. We had about 500 scientists work on it. And we reviewed all literature, all data on all disease and then came with estimations -- that was the report that has been recently published,” he said.

Marcenes is with the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary, University of London.

Tooth decay, or cavities in permanent teeth, is also known as carries.

“Carries is a chronic disease that shares the same risk factors as cancer, cardiovascular disease. What we’re having now is an increase in disease from highly developed countries happening in sub-Saharan Africa and probably it will be in other areas of Africa, too,” he said.

In fact, the study says the “largest increases in the burden of oral conditions” were in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania. Marcenes was not surprised at the study’s results.

“It tends to get less attention than some other disease. For example, HIV obviously [is] a much more relevant issue for the health of the population,” he said.

He said that tooth decay is rising sharply in Africa because developing countries are becoming more like Western nations in some ways.

“It is likely to be related to a change in diet. Our industrialized diet leads to chronic disease, which includes carries. And that may be the main explanation.”

The diets of developed nations are rich in sugar, a leading culprit in oral health problems. Marcenes says prior to the 19th Century, people had few cavities because sugar was not readily available. It’s also a major contributor to obesity.

Developed nations dramatically reduced the incidence of tooth decay and cavities by adding fluoride to their drinking water.

He  said, “The fluoridation of the water is a highly important issue, and yes, it came from research in America. It has contributed enormously to that reduction in carries.”

But while the fluoride made teeth more resistant to the bacteria that cause tooth decay, it also allowed people to eat more sweets.

Oral health problems, Marcenes said, have a major negative effect on a person’s quality of life. For one, they make eating difficult. Second, people may change what they eat and opt for softer foods, such as those with more fat. However, the biggest issue, he found, is both social and psychological.

“We have very strong evidence in the literature that the mouth plays a big role on socialization. People feel embarrassed about having bad teeth. Then they tend to smile less. They tend to communicate less. And the familiar thing is to see someone laughing with their hand in front of the mouth because they don’t want people to see.”

Professor Marcenes said that adolescents with bad teeth can face long-term self-esteem issues.

He hopes African and Asian nations will see the health problems of the West and not follow their dietary example. He’s calling for an “urgent, organized, social response” to the widespread lack of oral health.

“We need a public health approach that deals with the causes of the disease, rather than deal with each disease independently because the most disabling disease share the same cause,” he said.

Marcenes is calling for a holistic approach that includes a healthier diet and the development of new and cheaper dental materials and treatments.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid