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“Years of dental neglect have caused my teeth to fall out”

Written by Cynthia Maseko

While dental services at government health facilities are free, the fact that they are limited, many poor people in rural communities are unable to make use of them or are not aware of them. It’s an issue that is receiving some attention as September is oral hygiene month.

Patrick Shongwe (47) of Piet Retief is unemployed, and has not seen a dentist or oral hygienist for more than 30 years. His teeth are full of cavities and many have fallen out. Instead of starting out the day by brushing his teeth, he instead smokes a cigarette and has an alcoholic drink.


Patrick Shongwe (47) of Piet Retief has not seen a dentist for 30 years.

“Over the years, even though I saw the cavities and felt the pain, I never thought I was harming my health by neglecting my teeth. Why was I never told this by nurses? I am an HIV positive person, and at the clinic the only thing they always emphasize is how I must adhere to my ARVs,” said Shongwe.

Dental hygiene

Oral hygiene is the regular practice of keeping the mouth and teeth clean to prevent dental problems such as cavities, gingivitis, periodontal (gum) diseases and bad breath.

According to a health official at Mayo Clinic, new studies suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis – a severe form of gum disease – might play a role when a person has a disease. In cases of ailments like diabetes, HIV and AIDS, the body’s resistance can be lowered, resulting in the contracting of other infections or the worsening of oral health problems.

Tooth decay

September generally sees an increase in oral hygiene campaigns – yet health authorities believe it should be an ongoing effort rather than just an annual focus.

“People like me need to know about the importance of taking care of our teeth. And we should be told which of the government sites offer dental services because when things are left for too long, nothing can be done,” said clinic patient Fikile Ngobeni.

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.

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