Inequity is a disease that creates a crazy circle if not tackled. It is like a malignant growth that gets under the skin and spreads until the next generation is crippled. The evil plague of oral health challenges, most especially in under-served communities is a mighty ocean formed from the tiny drops of inequity. There is an everyday collision of inequity, its children and oral health diseases. As a dentist, I am faced with the challenge of tackling the diseases of inequities’ most obvious portals while constantly forced to face the pain of watching the people who seemingly cannot afford to buy a toothbrush drown themselves in the hopelessness of anxiety and depression, among the other stings that come from inequity.
No doubt that oral health problems weigh down heavily on the economically disadvantaged population and inequity is a causative factor. There is another disturbing wrinkle to this: the most affected age groups are the children and young adults. The future generation and potential world changers. I once listened to a young man of about 22 years living in a remote rural area on why he would rather spend the little money he has on buying food rather than getting a toothbrush so as to have good oral hygiene. That makes sense right, after all only the living can brush. He said,
“I live in a small hut with my 6 younger siblings and sick mother and I have to do manual labor for 12 to 15 hours daily to feed them, I need food more than need a clean mouth.”
Inequity is an oral health kryptonite and a majority of the people who experience some form of inequity are usually prone to neglect themselves and their health; this is as a result of the severe consequences inequity has on behavioral changes. For instance, most children in poor rural areas can go days or even weeks without brushing, this can result in oral health diseases which are further left untreated due to lack of facilities and finances.
Creating a sustainable oral health solution will only be possible when we start talking about removing barriers to inequity. To tackle the barriers of oral health in disadvantaged areas we must first address the monster inequity has conceived along with the dangerous placebo effects it has created in our minds. The fight against oral health burdens begins from reversing the crises inequity has created and we can only do this by removing economic disparities, poor educational systems and social inequity plaguing disadvantaged communities and families. We can no longer deny the connection between inequity and oral health. It’s time for us to look at the predisposing factor rather than nursing the numerous symptoms. It has become apparent that the fight against inequity is the fight against oral health diseases.
The injustice of inequity has no doubt become a cancer that must be stopped. We must consciously begin to empower those living in underserved communities, remove social barriers and continually give a voice to the vulnerable irrespective of their age, gender, race or color.
Dr Adekemi Adeniya, BDS, is a mobile dentist working in rural communities. She is the Founder and the Executive Director of Dentalcare Foundation formerly known as Dentoville Foundation. Dentalcare Foundation is an organization that provides free oral health education and treatments to orphans, children, and adults in rural areas with the aim of fostering health equity in underserved communities. She is also the co-founder of Komplete Woman, an organization that mentors young women to discover their purpose early and empowers teenage mothers who live in the slum.
She previously worked as an assistant country director for Health Equity International, Nigeria. She is a fellow of the Young African Leaders Initiative RLC, West Africa, an associate fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, UK, a 2019 Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity at George Washington University, a 2019 Alumni of the African Changemakers Fellowship, a 2019 Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholar at Lancaster University, UK, a 2019 UK Wintrade award finalist and the winner of the 2019 Her Network Woman of the Year award in Healthcare. She also serves as an Associate Pastor in New Reality Christian Centre, Ado-Ekiti.
She is passionate about optimizing, improving and developing the oral healthcare system and exploring the issues of community and culture as it relates to oral health. Her vision is to ensure that everyone in Nigeria has equal access to oral healthcare irrespective of their age, status or gender.
Dr Adekemi also has a strong passion for mentoring the younger generation which she does by enrolling young women in schools under the Kompletegirls Mentoring Club to be paired with reliable mentors. Dr Adekemi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Dentistry from i.Ya Horbachevsky Ternopil State Medical University, Ukraine and undergoing an MSc in Medical Leadership at Lancaster University.