Far beyond a bright smile, science suggests keeping the mouth, teeth, and gums clean and disease free is a key component to good overall health. Oral infections have been directly linked to heart attacks and strokes. Many people in developed countries are unaware of this connection and often only seek dental care when they feel pain or discomfort. They have abundant access to dentists yet lack knowledge of the extreme importance of maintaining oral health before the onset of disease. Without regularly scheduled check-ups, it is possible to have health conditions stemming from oral issues and be unaware. Poor oral health promotes bad bacteria which can enter the inner chamber of a tooth—where nerves that supply blood and feeling to the tooth are housed—and typically cause an infection. The infection may cause the inner tissue of the tooth, and the tooth itself, to die. Once this has taken place, some people won’t be able to feel the ongoing infection. Without proper examination and care from a dentist, a person may not know their body is fighting an infection.
Additionally, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, over 90% of systemic diseases produce oral symptoms and many serious conditions such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes often present with mouth lesions or other similar oral problems. Neglected oral health is very serious and leads to poor overall health and possible death. Dental care is extremely critical. Yet for most people in Rwanda it is rarely, if ever, available.
The great Challenge in Rwanda
Rwanda currently has 69 dentists to serve almost 13.6 million people, which translates to about 1 dentist for every 197,000 potential patients. By comparison, the United States has approximately 1 dentist per every 1,642 people. According to the 2016 reports by the Rwandan District Hospital 18% of morbidity cases across all district hospitals are directly linked to preventable oral diseases with access to basic dental care and education. Despite major efforts to rebuild the nation after the 1994 genocide, the statistics remain in despair and the need for more dental care professionals is greater than ever.
Most Rwandans have never been to a dentist for preventative care or cleanings. At best they go to the hospital for emergency situations such as infection and severe pain. Even accessing toothbrushes and toothpaste is a great challenge for the poorer communities. Poor oral and overall health is widespread while education and access to dental care is miniscule. We simply cannot overlook this dire and overwhelming situation. His Hands On Africa was founded to address the desperate oral-health care need in Rwanda. Our challenge is to partner with a developing nation where the majority of the population live on a few dollars a day and to create a sustainable solution for accessible and crucial dental care.