Taking care of your teeth means slightly just a little more than brushing and occasionally picking at them after a nyama choma feast with a toothpick. In fact, most Kenyans only seek out dentists when they are experiencing tooth issues. For complete dental care, it’s important to visit a dentist every six months for a check-up and for professional cleaning.

Did you know? A 2015 Oral Health Survey found that almost 98% of adult Kenyans have a degree of gum disease, yet two thirds of the population have never been to the dentist?

Dr. Vincent Otieno, a dentist currently based in Nairobi shares that the level of oral health education is poor at best and additionally, access to care is limited. Here are some dental facts he wishes every Kenyan knew about:

1. Prevention is Key

Prevention is cheaper in the long run, but what most of us do not appreciate, is the continual and recurring nature of personal preventive care. We lack a proper public oral health education program and as such a lot of what we understand about and practice as dental care for many people is self-taught. Beyond twice daily brushing, and once daily flossing, invest your time into your care, learn your body. Commit with a dental care provider whether public or private. Find a qualified and licenced professional to keep you accountable for your dental care at home and someone you can keep accountable for your dental education and professional care in return.

2. Everything is connected

Some women have been known to lose a tooth with each pregnancy hence the phrase, ‘Gain a child, lose a tooth’. Similarly, there exists a link between erectile dysfunction in men and chronic gum disease. This means that our mouths do not exist in isolation, and many dental diseases impact our general health and the health of those around us. Changes in our bodies have an effect on our oral health and changes in our mouths have an effect on our body and general health. It’s known as the oral-systemic link.

3. Listen to Your Mouth

The earlier we access care, the better our treatment outcomes, and cheaper still the overall cost of care. This demands being responsive to what our mouth is telling us. Subtle symptoms such as a change in  taste or in sensation could be a symptom of systemic diseases that would benefit from early management. Decay only Grows One Way: Dental diseases like most diseases only get worse over time if left untreated and these can be serious and fatal.

4. Bacteria, Diet

Humans and bacteria are symbiotically connected, 90% of the cells in the human body are bacterial in nature, and most of these bacteria exist in biofilms. Good and bad bacteria interact within our body; in fact, they influence the food we crave, the strength of our teeth and our chances of developing health risks. A probiotic diet is crucial in controlling the health of good bacterial biofilms in the mouth, stomach and in the rest of the body. An acidic/high sugar diet will always lead to the proliferation of population clusters of bacteria that lead to decay and gum disease especially when oral hygiene is poor.

5. Times have changed

Advances in dental field have meant that presently, dental visits do not have to be approached with dread. Patients visiting a dentist today are offered the choice of sedation for surgical procedures, painless injection systems and digital impressions are some of the other advances in most modern dental practices. These have made comfortable otherwise difficult procedures and have allowed for better patient experience.