Why you should pay more attention to your oral health, and dentists.

Television has ruined dentists for me. Every TV show/movie I’ve watched with a dentist character has them being dissed as not being real doctors. As a result, dentistry is one of those professions you would expect most parents to tell their kids to avoid like the plague. No parent wants to have that embarrassing conversation…

Zeyi: Hello sir, how are you? It has been a while, my friend.

Zeyis gango: Yes, ssebo. It has been indeed. I think I last saw you 5 years ago. Wasn’t it that time when we were in Nairobi for a conference and we went to this strip clu..

Zeyi: Errrr…wha..I don’t know what you are talking about. Here, do you remember this young man of mine? I think you last saw him when he was in o’level.

Zeyis gango: Yes, yes. You man, eh, nga you have grown (probably the most redundant line ever. What did you expect, that I was stunted?)

You (trying not to be sarcastic): Yes, indeed, I have grown. Biology dictates thus.

Zeyi: He is now a doctor, just recently graduated and started practising immediately.

Zeyis gango: Oh wow, that is very good. Which doctoring do you practise so I can send some people your way?

You: I’m a dentist at Nakasero Hospi…

Zeyis gango (blurted out):  Dentist are not doctors!

Life: Awkward silence so loud that the sound of your ego crumbling and zeyis pride shattering (while you both wonder why he keeps this idiot, that can’t control his mouth, as a friend) is only interrupted by a marabou stork flying by in slow motion and crapping on your zeyis car to add some literal effect to the shittiness of the moment. This last scene is best viewed with Michael Bay close-up slow motions shots.

Yeah, dentists are the rejects of the medical world. That is what television taught me. So when I secured an invitation for a breakfast with Dentists at Endiro to discuss oral health and plans for world oral health day, I was expecting a bunch of depressed chaps that have to carry the shame of their friends and families for years. To prepare, I had even memorised some comforting lines that I would dish out should one of them break into tears.

“There, there, mouth doctor. It’s not you, it is this gavumenti. If it is any consolation, at least you must have mastered the art of getting to first base and making an impression in that department, no?  Coz there is no way you are going to lie to me that dental school doesn’t have a course unit about how to effectively get a kiss and take the partners breath away in the process!”

My mood was not helped by the rain that refused to subside that entire morning. I eventually had to take a boda in the rain because I am not one to shy away from a mission to comfort the dejected of this world, and also get some free fancy breakfast that wasn’t my usual chai mukalo and bread. On reaching there, I found the dentists already spilling oral health information to the rest of the guys that had arrived earlier. I ordered a cup of coffee and joined the class.

The first thing that struck me is that these ‘rejects’ didn’t look dejected at all though. If anything, they all looked like they had come to Endiro in sleek air-conditioned cars. They had fancier gadgets than mine and all their hairs were in the right place, like they had come for a photo shoot. These guys looked happy. And this impression was further boosted by their smiles. Their smiles are the kind that are capable of making married people develop second thoughts about who they chose as a marriage partner. I was slowly getting the feeling that they also have an art of smiling course unit in dental school, and that television had lied to me about dentists in general. I promptly forgot all my preconceived notions about them and decided to listen. Maybe I’d finally get some answers about the proper technique for eating meat that isn’t properly ready without looking like you are engaging in tug of war. Surely they also had that course unit in dental school.

As I sat down, I heard one of them say something about dying with 20 teeth. Apparently, children have 20 teeth and dentists around the world are on a mission to make sure all adults die with at least 20 teeth. Forget that business of seeing toothless old people. If dentists have their way, this will no longer be the case. In fact, they had chosen to celebrate World Oral Health Day on 20th March for that very reason. Neat. Dentists were turning out to be pretty cool seeing as they could choose their own day in the year to have their oral health day on, not like everyone else who is stuck with a fixed day in the year.

As my coffee arrived, the doctors dropped another fact on us. Statistics they have indicate that over 90% of the world’s population suffer from some form of oral disease. Gatdayum. That is a lot of people moving around with mouth diseases. I gave everyone on the table a side eye. We were about 9 people there which meant probably only one of us had good teeth. That had to be me. But wait, three of the people were dentists and surely those couldn’t have mouth diseases. Which meant…no…not me as well? Sha, our table was obviously a very skewed sample space.

See, till last year, I’d never been to the dentist because I’d never had any tooth problems, at all. I’d effectively declared my teeth perfect. The only defect maybe is bigger-than-average spacing around the incisors with makes it look like I have developing vampire fangs, which wasn’t much of a problem since the people whose opinions mattered considered this kinda cool. I credit my good teeth to my upcountry upbringing where sweet things like soda, chocolate, ice cream etc were considered a luxury to be enjoyed on the most special of occasions. Good times. Whenever we needed a sugar fix, we either pounced on sugar canes or any of the fruits whose trees were abundant around the kyalo.

Upon joining school, my primary school, also located upcountry, had a strict brush-your-teeth-twice-a-day policy that must have also helped in ensuring that my teeth were on point throughout my early boarding years. The dentists at the breakfast confirmed my suspicions when they told us that most people with dental problems are in urban areas because of the diets there. Sadly, the rural areas are now witnessing a rise in dental problems because the lousy urban eating habits are spreading there. I blame Riham and their sodas.

When I finally made my one and only visit to a dentist last year, it was because then I was gainfully employed and had medical insurance. You see, along with thinking dentists are failures in life, I also have another theory stuck in my head that once you go to a dentist, they will always find a reason for you to keep going back and paying. Them and the ophthalmologist (eye specialists). They are like those mechanics in garages who can’t fail to find something wrong with your car even if it has just been airlifted from the factory straight to your compound.

I can’t quite remember where I got this particular theory from but because of it, and my perfect teeth, of course, I’d never bothered to go to a dentist. The only recurring bills one needs in their life are utilities and the tab at the bar. But medical insurance gets you dental health care too so when I finally got my card, I decided to go for some teeth whitening. It doesn’t hurt to have a smile that is so blinding that the person you are talking to have to put on sun glasses. Besides, I’ve seen the toothpaste adverts, chicks dig guys with teeth that have that engagement ring sparkle.

So, I made my first trip to the dentist. On reaching there, I discovered that the whitening procedure was too expensive for my dental insurance cover so I decided to do general dental check-up and cleaning, just for just. The dentist I was assigned to probed and poked my mouth with his instruments, poured liquids into my mouth, made me spit them out and repeated this for about 30 minutes. Let’s just say I didn’t feel that straight by the time he was done with me.

As expected, he gave my teeth a clean bill of health, except (Ha!) one of my molars was developing a hole which would need to be filled before it became a serious problem. I gave him a knowing smile, that smile that says I zig your hustle, and agreed to come back for the hole filling, mainly because the receptionist there had a smile that could cast away evil spirits.

I returned a week later, got the hole filled and was ready to say goodbye to dentists till I next had medical insurance. But the dentist was not done with me. Mbu my wisdom teeth were growing in a strange way and could be a problem in the future. The guy wanted to have them removed. Naye these dentists, how am I supposed to be wise if you are removing my wisdom teeth? A bald head alone won’t do it you know. I said farewell to him, the salvation-smile receptionist and walked out shaking my head. Remove my wisdom teeth, the nerve of this guy.

As it turns out, the majority of the world’s population think like me. Dental visits are something they only think about when they have a problem. A painful problem. I have seen friends turn into puny creatures because of toothaches and other oral health-related pains. They assure me it is as painful as being kicked in the gonads or giving birth. Once they have gone through that pain and had it sorted, that is when they start making pilgrimages to the dentists for regular check-ups. Don’t be like these people. A check up costs just 20k and you only need two of these a year at the very minimum to be on the safe side. A root canal, for example, costs about 500k so, as you can see, prevention is much better, and cheaper, than cure.

Some other facts the dentists dropped on us include the change your toothbrush every 3 months rule, and to avoid toothpicks as much we can. These small wooden things have nothing good about them except that they are cheap. But like we have seen up there, being cheap can turn out to be very expensive when it comes to dental issues. Toothpicks will mess up your gum and teeth. Flossing or brushing your teeth after meals are much better and hygienic options. Besides, ‘I’m flossing’ sounds way cooler that ‘I’m toothpicking’.

Brushing is also more about technique and frequency rather than the amount of energy used. You are supposed to brush with circular motions of the toothbrush. Even the toothpaste is not that important compared to the brushing technique. And while we are on the subject of toothpaste, make sure you use one with fluoride if you consume a lot of sugar. I know herbal products are trending these days but fluoride is much better for ensuring that your sweet tooth doesn’t evolve into a painful one. Plus, mouthwash with alcohol should only be taken if the dentist says so. Too much alcohol is harmful to the teeth. *Sigh

Anyway, before I sign off to go and flash my perfect teeth at the world, I’ll leave you with one final tidbit of information that the good dentists gave us, oral health problems have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, pneumonia, chest diseases, premature births and sterility among others. The germs that cause these can be found in the mouth and if not eliminated, they can cross into the bloodstream. If this is not reason enough to do regular check-ups, I don’t know what is.

The dentists can help detect most of these conditions before they become a serious problem. That’s why they chose “It all starts here (point at your mouth and say the next part out loud). Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body” as this year’s theme. In fact, a dentist is able to detect that a person has HIV just by looking at their mouth even though the symptoms haven’t manifested yet. They can also detect if you are telling lies. Ok, that last one is a not true, or is it? It kind of makes you wonder, though, what else they can detect just by looking inside your mouth….

“James, picking your nose is not such a sin, it’s what you do with the booger after that counts. Please dispose of it elsewhere next time.”

“I see a bright future ahead for you Amooti. You will have 2 wives, and 11 children. You will also be given a cow as a graduation gift that will also give birth to 11 calves.”

“Betty, you told me you were saving yourself for marriage. Lies!”

“Hajji, naye I thought Muslims don’t eat pork.”

“You are a descendant of Judas Iscariot”

“Douglas, have you been sleeping with my wife?”


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The #HustleTales of Kaahwa Jean, MD of Africa Agribusiness Services Ltd