Brushing up on dental hygiene

Dr Maphefo Thekiso extracts one of Ziphezintle's rotten teeth. (File Photo)
Written by Cynthia Maseko

Mbombela, Mpumalanga – Sarah Masina is an unemployed single mother of four who has gone most of her life without ever going to the dentist.

“I never thought by neglecting my teeth all those years could have serious health consequences,” the 45-year-old woman told Health-e News. “I was embarrassed  of my appearance – a lot of my teeth had fallen out – I was ashamed to seek treatment.”

But recently Masina put her feelings of shame aside and went to her local clinic to seek help.

“I was diagnosed with gum disease. The dentist told me the reason my teeth had fallen out over the years was that of the gum disease.”

‘Couldn’t afford toothpaste’

Masina said her family was poor and they couldn’t afford toothpaste and toothbrushes so dental hygiene wasn’t a priority.

According to dentist Dr Innocentia Mbatha, oral hygiene is the regular practice of keeping your mouth and teeth clean to prevent dental problems such as cavities, gingivitis, gum disease and bad breath.  

Gum disease is a condition caused by bacteria and food debris that build up on teeth and form a sticky film known as plaque. As the plaque hardens, it forms tartar and more plaque continues to form. Ultimately, this results in the gums becoming swollen and red. As it worsens it can cause teeth to become loose because of the damage it causes to the soft tissue and bone underneath the teeth.

Mbatha said gum disease can be prevented by brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing, changing your toothbrush regularly and visiting a dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning.

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.

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.