Losing teeth, especially to extraction is quite painful. Perhaps, the most intense pain is when you lose teeth before you can get to enjoy and ‘eat’ what you have earned over the years. For Francis Muthama, seeing his close family members lose teeth at critical ages sparked a desire to find a permanent solution.
His family is not the only one; statistics paint a grim picture.
Kenya National Oral Health Survey report of 2015 shows three of four children suffer from gum disease.
Arthur Kemoeli, a consultant paediatric dentist, says unchecked oral health could lead to serious dental
issues. He also notes good dental healthcare is not affordable to most people.
“Dentists use expensive equipment that increases cost of treatment, thus reducing its affordability for most people,” says Prof Kemoeli. Dental decay and gum diseases are some of the common concerns in paediatric dentistry.
Vulnerable communities The latest survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates
Kenya has less than 1,500 dental health specialists against a population of 47 million—a ratio of one dentist to 42,000, a far cry from the recommended ratio of 1:7,000.
Additionally, more than 75 per cent of the dentists in the country are found in urban centers, leaving the rural population to grapple with the remaining 25 per cent.
To Muthama, the statistics are not just numbers; it calls for action. As he narrated to People Daily, he wants to
see children of Africa proudly.
“What thrills me is to see children of Africa smiling, I am very excited about it,” says Muthama, whose solution was to set up Kinga Africa, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes good oral health among children in vulnerable
Starting with children is a strategic move, aimed at raising a new generation of people with no dental problems or at least, only a few. Most children in rural communities do not brush their teeth; they only have been taught to use tender twigs of trees to remove food remains from their teeth. For the few who have access to teeth brushing kits, they do not brush correctly.
Since its founding in 2012, Kinga Africa has reached over five million children in over 15 counties of Kenya.
The organisation is headquartered in Matuu, Machakos county, but holds programme in all 47 counties. A vital part of their programme is to distribute oral health kits to children of primary schools.
Recently, they were in Makivenzi Primary School, Machakos county, where over 500 children aged below 12 years gathered around volunteers to learn how to brush their teeth and to receive oral health kits, comprising two toothbrushes, a tube of toothpaste and a teeth-brushing calendar.
They also fight against infant oral mutilation (IOM), the practice where a traditional healer removes baby’s teeth with the belief that they cause said illness the baby is suffering from.
Consequently, the healers cut the gums and extract the developing teeth. Although it is practiced in many
places, it is not only painful for the infant, but also may lead to secondary infections.
Some communities also extract teeth as a rite of passage, and Kinga Africa is discouraging this practice as
it has no health benefits. The distribution of toothpastes to schools is an engaging exercise planned for over one week. The team identifies a county and later visits all the primary schools in it.
Kinga also holds free dental camps, which play a vital role in providing affordable and accessible health care for communities. So far, they have organised over 50 free dental camps offering checkups, extractions, fillings, dentures, scaling and oral hygiene.
However, as Muthama narrates, running such an ambitious programme has a fair share of challenges, especially funding. Some schools are in remote areas not easily accessible due to poor roads.
Kinga Africa relies fully on donor funds and well-wishers. Since the funding is unpredictable, Muthama says it is constrained even though they wish to expand their programmes. Colgate has so far been one of their most reliable corporate partners.
Besides promoting oral hygiene, Kinga Africa also promotes menstrual health and hand washing. They recently built a dental hospital in Matuu. Once equipped, it will be the only of its kind in East Africa.
They also have a dream of owning an all-terrain vehicle to reach children in the most remote regions.
Kinga Africa has been recognised for its efforts and in 2018, it received the Africa NGO Awards in a fete held in Mauritius. Kinga is also set to receive the 2020 World NGO leadership Award tomorrow.
“Since this work is quite overwhelming and our budgets are enormous, we call upon volunteers and well wishers to help us mobilize resources for this mission,”