There are many reasons you should take oral health seriously, starting with the obvious one, which is, maintaining a healthy mouth. Experts say poor oral health can lead to cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and other adverse health conditions. Oral health is said to be linked to whole-body health, which means that problems with your teeth and gums can lead to other health concerns like heart disease, stroke, and more. World Oral Health Day is observed on March 20 every year to raise global awareness on the issues around oral health, and the importance of oral hygiene. This year’s theme is ‘Be proud of your mouth’. ALSO READ: Why you shouldn’t neglect your teeth or gums In line with this, since March 17, Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and other stakeholders have been performing various oral health activities, such as dental screenings, live radio and television discussion programmes, and awareness exhibitions via social media, and other communication channels. Dental screenings were conducted during Car Free Day on March 19, with more scheduled for March 20 at Kacyiru Primary School and March 24 at Institut Filipo Smaldone Nyamirambo. ALSO READ: Why you should visit the dentist every six months This comes at a good time as oral health issues are the most common reason Rwandans visit a doctor. The Minister of Health, Dr Sabin Nsabimana, alluded at this when he spoke at the National Dialogue Council - Umushyikirano, last month. ALSO READ: Healthy teeth, healthy kids: Teaching children good oral hygiene A study by RBC revealed some worrisome facts about the country’s oral health situation. By 2021, 92.8 per cent of patients who visit the hospital for oral health issues do so after it has progressed to a critical level and only when they are experiencing severe pain. Others choose to deal with the discomfort for the rest of their lives, with only 11 per cent choosing to pursue and complete treatment. It also found that only one per cent of Rwandans visit the hospital for prevention purposes. The Rwanda Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) step survey 2021 also indicated that 57 per cent of Rwandans have never received dental care or visited a dentist, while only 11.5 per cent have seen a dentist in the last 12 months. 92.8 per cent of correspondents stated a history of tooth or gum pain as the primary reason they went to a dentist in the last 12 months, while less than one per cent kept a routine check-up treatment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Oral Health Status Report (2022) estimated that oral diseases affect close to 3.5 billion people worldwide with three out of four people affected living in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated two billion people suffer from caries of permanent teeth, while 514 million children suffer from caries of permanent teeth. ALSO READ: Oral health: What triggers hyperdontia? How to maintain dental hygiene “The good news is most oral issues can be dealt with with improved hygiene. Brushing your teeth (especially after eating or consuming sugary treats) for at least two minutes, and changing your toothbrush at least once every three months, for example, can save you a lot of trouble, pain, discomfort, or disfigurement,” said Irene Bagahirwa, RBC’s superintendent of ongoing dental screenings. To maintain good oral hygiene, it is recommended to brush with fluoride toothpaste, at least twice a day, and preferably floss daily between the teeth to remove dental plaque. It is also important to visit a dentist at least once a year, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures. People are also encouraged to not use any tobacco products and limit alcoholic drinks. WHO recommends a well-balanced diet low in free sugars and high in fruit and vegetables, and favouring water as the main drink. Citing the benefits of getting regular screening, Bagahirwa added that in addition to improved oral hygiene, seeking treatment before it’s too late is advisable. Jean Claude Uwihoreye, the head of the Rwanda Dental Students Association (RDSA), stressed the importance of maintaining one’s dental health. “When someone sees you, the first thing they notice is your mouth. And I’m confident the condition of it says something about your overall health. Why would you then ignore this? Not when we shower, dress nicely, and make an effort to look good, yet neglect oral hygiene,” he continued. He also encouraged other young people to participate not only in the screenings but also volunteering, particularly when it comes to promoting awareness.