Liberians and other nationals attending the first-ever celebration of the World Oral Health Day (WOHD) in Liberia, Thursday, March 20, were left stunned when they heard the above statistics.
It was disclosed by Dr. (MD) Ayele Ajavon Cox, founder of Smiles for Liberia, a charitable NGO providing dentistry and healthcare to everyone free of charge.
Dr. Cox is the only dentist at Liberia’s biggest referral hospital, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor, Monrovia; she is also one of only two Liberians who are among seven practicing dentists in a country with a population of 3.5 million.
The other Liberian dentist is Dr. Taylor Neal, chief executive officer of Poly Clinic. Both doctors are in their retirement years but have decided to stay active due to the very limited number of professional dentists in Liberia.
Dr. Cox, giving the history of WOHD, said that 99 percent of typical Liberians have never seen or heard of a dentist; “much less been treated by one.”
Touching on the global statistics, Dr. Cox revealed that 90 percent of the world’s seven billion people will suffer from oral disease in their lifetime.
“Sixty percent have access to oral healthcare; 60 to 90 percent of school-going children worldwide have dental problems; oral cancer is the eighth most common form of cancer in the world and the most costly to treat, while toothaches are the number one reason for absenteeism from school in many countries,” she added.
She maintained, however, that many oral diseases could be avoided with increased governmental, health association and society support. This support would have to be buttressed with funding for prevention, detection and treatment programs.
She stated that this year’s— like all other years before it— celebrations have focused on raising awareness of the importance and the relationship of the mouth to the other parts of the body.
“It is an international day to celebrate the benefits of a healthy mouth and to promote worldwide awareness of the issues surrounding oral health. It is the aim of WOHD not only to raise awareness but to encourage individuals, families, communities and governments to take action and help reduce the global burden of oral diseases,” she added.
She intoned that the day offers the dental and oral health community a platform to take action and reduce the global disease burden.
Dr. Cox described herself as the “foot soldier” for oral health issues in Liberia, recommended that more health institutions in Montserrado County be equipped with oral health materials; more dentists be trained in developing countries; and focus should be placed on prevention with emphasis on schools; and that a small functional budget should be allocated to oral health.
The day was celebrated under the theme: “Celebrating Healthy Smiles.”
However, the keynote speaker of the day, Mrs. Yah Martor Zolia, Deputy Minister of Health for Planning, Research and Development, chose for her personal topic, “Oral Health: A Window to Your Overall Health.”
Mrs. Zolia told the audience that one’s oral health can offer clues about one’s overall health and that problems in one’s mouth can affect the rest of one’s body.
While corroborating the statistics that Dr. Cox had earlier mentioned, Mrs. Zolia, who is also the present Acting Minister of Health and Social Welfare, said, “Working together helps us unite our efforts to prevent the epidemic of cavities, gum disease and tooth loss. This helps our communities to maintain proper dentition for life.”
She also added that at least 10 to 15 persons die annually from oral health-related causes at JFK Hospital alone.
Also speaking was Dr. Saye Baawo, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, who stated that since there is a limited number of dentists and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists in the country, they have decided to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to begin training teachers who can serve as the first points of contact with school-going kids. “Those teachers would be trained to detect any early signs of oral, nose, ear, throat and skin health problems among the kids,” he added.
Among the audience were students from two kindergarten schools. The celebrations, which were held on the compound of the Ministry of health and Social Welfare in Oldest Congo Town, were characterized by the kids learning how to use colors. Dental practitioners were also on hand to provide screening for the kids’ teeth. The kids were taught how to use their toothbrushes.
The program was sponsored by Chevron-Liberia, the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCROP) the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and the Flemister Family in the USA.