A TOP Zimbabwean health official has said that a survey aimed at coming up with an oral health care policy will be conducted this year, 28 years after the last exercise.
Hardwicke Matikiti, oral health care deputy director at the Health Ministry, made the revelation to Anadolu Agency ahead of World Oral Health Day, which is commemorated on March 20 every year.
“We have asked ourselves, where are we going as a country without an oral health care policy, it’s like driving a car without a speedometer. We tried in 1994 but failed,” said Matikiti.
“We now have people in our midst who have serious oral health challenges that require a policy in place,” he added.
Matikiti said World Oral Health Day is an opportunity to educate the community on the importance of oral hygiene, admitting that a majority of Zimbabweans shun hospitals for dental services due to financial constraints as well as a lack of awareness.
“We need at least two checkups a year, but for some it’s a luxury,” said Harare dentist Juliana Musabayana Homwe. “It’s very difficult to build this culture of visiting dentists unless we make this culture a norm in our society.”
Knowledge gap among citizens
Citizens Anadolu Agency spoke to were not aware of the benefits of good oral health care, and most of those who responded said the mention of a “dentist” reminds them of tooth extraction and decay.
Jennipher Simango, a 44-year-old shop assistant based in Harare, said she has been to a dentist only twice in her life for tooth extraction.
“I come from a humble background and indeed visiting a dentist is a luxury to me,” she said. “I only saw a dentist because my teeth were painful and needed some extraction, that’s all.”
Lorraine Chisvo, a 40-year-old accounts clerk living also in Harare, said she had somewhat knowledge of the importance of oral health care as she started developing problems with her teeth at a young age, but agreed that reluctance is due to the services being costly.
“I could have lost another tooth recently if I had not visited the dentist who recommended a root canal treatment, but the services are expensive,” she said.
Others also said they do not seek dental care and prefer using traditional herbs owing to the high charges.
Matikiti said there are challenges, and without a guiding document it is difficult to conduct surveys.
He said the Southern African country is yet to measure its capacity to offer oral health care services, such as how many people suffer from decayed teeth, loss of teeth and other oral diseases.
“You can’t solve what you don’t know. We have not had a lot of equipment in our hospitals, hence some services are not there. So far, we have purchased equipment for a few central hospitals,” noted Matikiti. “There is a need to have equipment and trained staff in all district hospitals, then we can talk of oral health care.”