My first encounter with a dentist was quite memorable. I had this excruciating toothache that just wouldn’t respond to simple analgesics and for two days or so I couldn’t chew anything, no matter how soft. There was this particular molar that was really tired of chewing and was begging to be pulled out and I really felt it!
Eventually, I found my way to a private dental clinic somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos. I still remember the warm reception, the best anyone could get in a hospital, right from the registration desk, till I was ushered in to the dentist’s consulting room. The dentist, a lady, immediately set to work. Question time over, she motioned me to the comfortable reclining dental chair and began probing. I felt the touch of her instrument on the “sick” tooth and yelled.
“Easy now,” she comforted me as she carefully probed further. That done, she sat down to write her findings and painstakingly explained her diagnosis to me.
First, she said the “sick tooth” had to go so I should prepare for an extraction. Well, the other teeth were not exactly in top shape either. She told me my gum was infected and I needed some antibiotics to take care of that. There were holes (they call them “cavities”) that must be filled and some scaling to be done. Well, what do you expect? It was my first visit ever to a dentist.
She handed me a prescription for the immediate relief of the pain, fixed an appointment and gently ushered me back to the front desk. Then I got the bill. This is no exaggeration but it was far more than all the hospital bills I’ve got for that year put together. Well, I really don’t visit the hospital so frequently but then, this bill was something I never imagined. And that was the end of my romance with the dentist.
I took the drugs and the pain vanished. As if my molar knew it had carried the joke too far, it fell out on its own as I attempted to chew with it. Well, some years on, my dentist friend is still expecting me to keep the appointment.
I’m not alone. I know a friend who is still battling with a toothache and requires tooth extraction. Her previous experiences in two government hospitals were also memorable. In one of the hospitals, the carpenter, sorry dentist, in a bid to chisel out her tooth, forcefully broke it into two and she needed surgery to remove the second half that was left buried in the gum! That, in the second hospital, left her with a swollen jaw and splitting headache for days.
You can imagine her fear when she developed toothache again. She vowed not to go to a government hospital. This time, she chose a private clinic in Alapere, a Lagos suburb, where she thought the extraction would be done without much pain and at an affordable cost. She was wrong. She needed well over N300,000 to extract and replace the three affected teeth!
I just can’t help remembering these tales from the dental clinics as we mark yet another World Oral Health Day this week. Once again, the dentists are angry. They say we have left our buccal cavity (or mouth, to say it simple) open for all kinds of oral diseases and we don’t even know the poor thing is ill!
They say we don’t know how to keep our mouth clean and germ-free. The dentists also accuse us of treating our mouth with so much levity and disdain while we unknowingly import different types of diseases and ailments to other parts of our body through it.
Just as they have advised in the past, the dentists tell us we need to cultivate the habit of seeing them at least twice a year. Not only that, we must learn how to brush our teeth.
Of course, they are the experts. We need to listen to them and do exactly as they have advised. Unfortunately, just as they do every year when we mark the world Oral Health Day, nobody has taken the pain to find out why Nigerians don’t ever consider visiting the dentist unless they are in pain.
Want to know why? Just take a second look at the two experiences above. Simply put, many people in Nigeria just find the dental clinics painfully inaccessible. If the cost is not too high, the services, especially in the public institutions are appalling. And the dentists are, of course, too few in number. I believe we need to address these important factors first before we castigate the people for their poor oral health.
For me, I’m just not thinking of another visit yet.