Contrary to the belief of many people, a dental expert, Professor Olawunmi Fatusi, has said that dental problems can be dangerous and can also kill.
Professor Fatusi at the 343rd inaugural lecture of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, said odontogenic infections, which are infections arising from teeth and the teeth-supporting structures, can be fatal.
It was entitled: “The Surgeon’s Hands and the Human Race: Advancing the Science and Practice of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery”.
Fatusi, the first female professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery in West Africa, stated that although most common causes of odontogenic infections are holes in the teeth and around the wisdom tooth, severe infections can occur following a tooth extraction.
The don stated that spreading odontogenic infections are particularly dangerous and may result in death due to spread into contiguous deep facial and neck spaces.
She added, “The two most common complications of spreading odontogenic infections are life-threatening in nature.”
Professor Fatusi said the severity of odontogenic infections can be monitored based on signs such as lockjaw, pain and swelling.
According to her, systemic diseases including diabetes mellitus, malaria, HIV and tuberculosis can complicate the treatment of diseases of the mouth and face.
Professor Fatusi said that it is not every toothache that is caused by holes in the teeth and warned that signs such as sore anywhere in the mouth including tongue and lips; white and red patches on the gums, tongue and lining of the mouth require attention.
According to her, other signs that require attention include loose teeth without obvious dental cause such as pain, sudden numbness in any part of the face and hoarseness or change in voice.
She said these signs sometimes are telltale signs of cancer .
The don declared that the leading factors associated with oral cancers are smoking and alcohol use.
According to her, the practice of oral sex increases the risk of human papilloma virus (HPV)-related oral cancers even as poor oral hygiene and poor nutrition are also associated with oral cancer.
She, however, said the practice of surgery in Nigeria is very challenging, with the health-seeking behaviour of the patients and their families constituting a critical issue.
Professor Fatusi, therefore, said there is an urgent need to strengthen the human resource for health, make services more accessible across the country, and ensure appropriate referral links across the levels of health care.
“This is particularly crucial for oral health, which has not received the desired attention in our national health scheme,” she stated.
To strengthen oral and maxillofacial surgery education and training, she recommended improving training infrastructure and ensuring constant upgrading and adequate maintenance; expanding training opportunities for dental health workers, strengthening the academic surgeon agenda and oral health service delivery.