What is Infant Oral Mutilation?

Whilst some patients may look upon accessing dental implants treatment in London as being something quite serious, possibly uncomfortable and, at worst, fairly unpleasant. We in the developed world should really think ourselves lucky when it comes to the dental treatment we can access, and in particular when we compare the treatments undergone in modern clinics with some of the frankly barbaric practices, such as infant oral mutilation, which are carried out in less  advanced parts of the world. Infant oral manipulation is a process carried out, usually using unsuitable and unsterilized tools, and without the aid of anaesthetic, on the healthy baby teeth of a young child. It is necessary to examine this problem, and to think about ways of stopping it, because it results in severe pain, problems with the mouth stretching into the future and, in the very worst cases, even death. It is vital that we who are lucky enough to experience advanced and effective care do not turn our backs on those who aren’t so fortunate.

Underlying Causes:

The underlying causes of infant oral mutilation are medical ignorance.  The young children concerned are taken to see a local healer when they are suffering from conditions such as fever and diarrhoea. The soft white tooth buds which are just beginning to break through the gums are mistaken for parasitical worms which can, in fact, sometimes manifest themselves during such illnesses.  The reality is that the child’s illness is probably caused by something such as a stomach bug, malaria or the consumption of unclean water. Having diagnosed the teeth as ‘tooth worms’, the healer will then set about gouging them out using the aforementioned tools and methods.

Where it Takes Place:

The practice in question has been observed for many years in different parts of Africa, in places such as Burundi, Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It is thought that the custom is one which is passed back and forth between different communities and tribes. More recently, and perhaps a reason why we in the advanced West cannot afford to be complacent about the issue, there have been reports of children presenting with symptoms suggestive of infant oral mutilation in countries such as the UK, Australia, the USA, France, Norway and Israel. This has led to speculation that the practice may be being imported by migrant populations.

The Reality of The Problem:

The first thing to accept when dealing with this problem is that it is deeply painful and distressing for the child concerned, and that perfectly healthy teeth are being needlessly destroyed. More serious than that, are the long term ramifications, which include facial disfigurement and lifelong problems with permanent teeth and gums. This is not even the worse of the problem, however, since the unsterilized nature of the tools used for the procedure, and the surrounding in which it is likely to be carried out, mean that infection, shock, loss of blood and even HIV/AIDS can and do occur, leading, in the worst cases, to the infant in question dying. For those of us lucky enough to live in advanced First World societies, looking after our teeth has never been easier, and the benefits can extend beyond good health and on into our aesthetic well-being and thus our confidence and social life.

For us, oral hygiene and dental care, as well as general dentistry treatment are things we take for granted. Thinking about infant oral mutilation should do two things; it should stop us taking the condition of our teeth and the treatment we enjoy for granted, and it should make us determined to offer help to those, especially the youngest and most vulnerable in society, who aren’t so fortunate.

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