Written by Mark Topley

Dying from simple dental decay might seem impossible, but on the eve of World Oral Health Day Mark Topley points out that – in some parts of the world – it is all too common.

I run a British dental health NGO out in Tanzania. At a dinner recently on the shores of Lake Victoria, I sat next to an America surgeon visiting the area. As well as working within our local city, Mwanza, she was carrying out surgery in one of the district hospitals where our emergency dental training teams are based. As we chatted, the subject turned to the training we’d been providing in the Lake Zone.

Dental examination in Tanzania

Although I knew that complications from untreated dental disease could cause real problems for people living in this part of the world, the comments my dinner companion made shocked me. Many of her patients, she said, needed major surgery to remove diseased tissue caused by untreated dental infection. As she explained, when a dental infection fails to ‘drain’ properly, the infection can track into the neck and then spread from there into the chest. This leads to tissue necrosis (tissue death) and septicemia (severe infection in the blood), often fatal. Treatment is to cut away the necrotic tissue and give high doses of antibiotics.

Sadly, she reflected, this very rarely works. Once a person has infection tracking into their neck, the prognosis is not good. It was one of the enduring memories, and frustrations, from her visit. She summed it up with a comment at the end of dinner:

“If I had my way, I would train an army of people to take teeth out safely. What people need in the villages round here is someone who can simply remove a diseased tooth, and stop the infection spreading.”

Dying from decay

It is 2013 and people are still dying from untreated dental decay. Two of our teams have just returned from the regions of Musoma and Bukoba in Tanzania, where for 10 days they have been training local health workers in emergency dentistry. They will train them in areas without running water or power, or the standard sterilisation kit we are used to here back in the UK (special charcoal-burning sterilisers are used instead). Yet for thousands of people living in distant, rural settlements there are now a dozen locally-qualified people who are able to treat their communities day-in, day-out, helping to prevent the sort of hideous conditions that my dinner companion had mentioned.

Sadly, however, the shocking reality is that three-quarters of the world’s population have no access to even the most basic of dental services. Dental Caries as the dental profession calls them – or tooth decay – is the world’s most common disease. It causes debilitating pain and drastically affects a person’s ability to function.

Tanzanians waiting for a dental check-up

READ THE STORY: Surely people don’t die from a toothache?

Mark Topley is CEO of Bridge2Aid, a British dental health NGO operating in East Africa www.bridge2id.org | @mark_topley


Oral Health Foundation

The Oral Health Foundation is a charity that works to improve oral health by providing education, advice, and support to millions of people every year, changing lives for the better. Our mission is to support others in achieving a healthier life through better oral health. Our vision is to live in a world where everybody has a healthy mouth and is free of dental disease. Poor oral health can have a harmful and devastating effect on a person’s life – both for their physical health and mental wellbeing. We are determined to help more people achieve good oral health and have a better quality of life. Sadly, oral disease remains common, across the life course. We are taking the challenge to reduce the harm caused by poor oral health and the responsibility to create a healthier future for everybody. We do this because we believe that everybody deserves to have good oral health. To make sure this happens, by 2024, we will:

    • Work towards decreasing the prevalence of oral disease across communities.
    • Increase the number of people accessing our help and information services.
    • Diversify our range of resources to reach more communities.
    • Successfully campaign for policies which help people achieve healthier lives.
    • Generate new and nurture existing income streams that enable us to deliver our charitable objectives.

We are going to achieve success by:

    • Running awareness campaigns like National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month.
    • Giving anybody who needs it direct support through our Dental Helpline.
    • Influencing policy on subjects like dental access, sugar, and tobacco.
    • Providing consumer advice on oral health care products and working alongside manufacturers to make sure products do what they claim to do.
    • Creating resources and information that communicates positive oral health messages.
    • Working alongside others who share our passion for health and wellbeing.

To find out more about us, visit our website at https://www.dentalhealth.org/

One Response to Surely people don’t die from a toothache?

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *