Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has announced that it will be implementing the 2020 National Oral Health Policy, which aims to reduce the rate of oral disease among Nigerians. The policy considers the political, cultural, and economic reasons that affect the state of oral health.
At a recent press conference, the Head of the Health Department’s Dentistry Division, Dr. B. Alonge, told the News Agency of Nigeria that, in December last year, pertinent authorities reviewed the draft policy that was originally created in 2012. She stated that experts were working on drafting the final version of what would eventually be published as the 2020 National Oral Health Policy.
What Issues will the Policy Need to Address?
Recent research on oral health in Nigeria, published in the International Dental Journal, reveals just a few of the problems that need addressing include ‘deep pocketing’ (when periodontal disease destroy the tissue and bone that support teeth, thus forming ‘pockets’ around teeth). Pocketing occurs at a young age in Nigeria, the prevalence hovering between 15% and 58% in those aged above 15 years of age. Oral disease prevention in seniors and younger adults can be achieved through regular visits to the dentist for cleaning and inspection.
Seniors who wear dentures, meanwhile, can avoid gum issues by cleaning their dentures and consuming a healthy diet. The National Oral Health Policy should consider the needs of teens, young adults, and seniors in this respect. Greater awareness about the importance of gum health should be spread, but government action is also required to make oral care more affordable and accessible.
Tooth Restoration Rates are Low
Although the mean DMFT (decayed, missing and filled permanent teeth) stands at less than four in most communities in Nigeria, rates of restoration of teeth with activities are extremely low. The adoption of unhealthy Western diets (which are high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats), in particular, has led to higher caries prevalence in the second permanent molars. Other oral health issues include damaged teeth, oral tumors, malocclusion (problems with the bite), and weakened tooth enamel.
What Government Action Must Be Taken?
Under the previous National Oral Health Policy, plans included the provision of oral health care to over 50% of Nigerian residents via integration of oral health into national health programmes and the upgrading of current dental practices. However, there is a dearth of dentists in Nigeria, with fewer than 5,000 currently registered to attend to the entire population. Moreover, many healthcare centres that are intended to provide oral health care are not functioning to their intended capacity. Finally, oral health care is not free, meaning that many Nigerians simply cannot afford the care they need.
For the new National Oral Health Policy to achieve more than its 2012 version, greater awareness of oral disease prevention is key for children, adults, and seniors. However, issues like deeper and include a lack of Nigerian dental health professionals and fully functioning clinics. Finally, costs are currently covered by Nigerians, many of whom avoid dental visits for economic reasons. Therefore, at least partial funding by the NHIS should be considered so that a real improvement in the oral health of Nigerians can be achieved.
By Cassandra Ally