- Created on Thursday, 17 July 2014 08:14
- Written by Victor Amadala for Kenyakidz
An age old practice where parents remove the teeth of their new borns is receiving a backlash from doctors who blame it for the rising cases of adults with teeth that have failed to grow permanently and children deaths as research shows upto 70 percent of parents dismantle their children’s teeth on the premise that they are a bad omen.
Some babies produce teeth earlier than others, with majority of the communities branding these teeth ‘plastic teeth’ which they argue are bad omen which can affect the baby’s health and eventually kill. Special traditional doctors are consulted and use crude materials like needles and salt being used to remove the teeth.
But doctors dispute it as a myth arguing that what people refer to plastic teeth is a normal dental development in children and extraction of these teeth can lead to poor formation of the teeth set or no teeth growing at all.
When a nurse at Pumwani maternity hospital placed a new born baby on Beth Kipunyi's chest, she sprung from her agonising bed in unparalleled joy to view it: it was a baby boy.
Kipunyi's joy, just like many other families in Africa did not last long. When her ageing mother examined the child's mouth four month later, she spat on the ground bitterly a sure sign of disappointment. “The child had 'evil plastic teeth”, she mourned.
To save the baby from an eminent 'bad omen', those killer teeth were to be extracted by all means. She sort the wisdom of a traditional medicine man who upon being paid Sh300, extracted them using a divine needle amid cries from a child whose may have lost his teeth for life.
Although this practise started four centuries ago by a French Sargon, it took shape in 1930s in an account of the customs of the pagan tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. The Shilluk tribe were reported to have taken out the lower deciduous incisors in young babies to prevent them from becoming ill and dying. Communities in northern Uganda, then Tanzania before Kenyan communities started to embrace it in early 1960s. According to the research Maasai and Akamba communities lead in a culture that denies children proper growth.
Jane Mbinya 56 from Kitui County who is visiting her daughter in Nairobi's Huruma estate ostensibly to cut plastic teeth that are causing her grandson regular fever is adamant that no modern medicine can heal those teeth. She goes on to narrate to how she lost her twin daughters to the ‘menace’.
But doctors hold a separate view. According to paediatric dentist at Nairobi Hospital Dr. Andrew Malavu, primary teeth or deciduous teeth begin its development in mother's womb normally between sixth and eighth week of pregnancy. He explains that this is a normal teething process that takes place in all human beings.
When a baby is born, two pearly white elements can be seen penetrating from the gum. Dr. Malavu continues that, although this process takes place in all babies, vision of these two canine teeth depends on the calcium content of the baby. He offers that the central lower canine is pale hence can be spotted easily.
This development comes at a time when a baby is developing his/her own immune system since it has been feeding through the mother’s placenta. During this period, children are susceptible to a host of relatively minor infections ranging from diarrhoea to fever.
Another paediatrician at the hospital, Dr. David Githange, while agreeing with Dr. Malavu’s explanation adds that eruption of these two canines should not bother parents since the baby starts developing its teeth while in the womb. He notes that many communities regard this teeth abnormal with some calling them 'plastic or false' teeth a perception that requires awareness as many parents end up plucking out this teeth. '' When parents remove those teeth crudely, they not only inflict severe pain to the baby but also expose it to a condition known as hypodonia or anodontia where one fails to develop some teeth completely.
A research conducted 2 years ago by an International dental company, Dent-aid reveals sorry state of how myths and quark traditional medicine men and women instil fear and confusion in parents both elite and illiterate into believing that plastic teeth are true and kill. In Uganda for instance, the research show that 72 percent of parents dismantle their children dental formula with 156 out of 740 admissions made succumbing to injuries and other infections leading to a 20.1 percent mortality rate.
Dr. Masiga Mary who heads University of Nairobi's paediatric dentistry conducted a study to determine the pattern of occurrence of dental injuries in the 0-15 year-olds. Most injuries involved two teeth, at 47.1 percent and the maxillary central incisors were the most affected teeth both in the primary, 67.5 percent and permanent, 64.0 percent dentitions. This is solely attributed to extraction of teeth using crude objects.
Common objects used to extract these teeth which are pale in colour hence easy to be spotted even in their earliest stage include scrubbing using herbs from myegea tree in Tanzania and Nderama in Kenya, unsterilised implements, carbon particles and ash.
Dr. Masiga warns that blood lost and shock during the operation can lead to death of a child and besides, unhygienic methods can cause septicaemia, tetanus and transmission of blood born diseases which include HIV/AIDS.