In search of the perfect smile

Tendai Chara
Fluoris is a chronic condition caused by excessive intake of fluorine compounds which results in victims having discoloured, stained teeth. According to online sources, there are many causes of teeth discolouration, chief among them diet, poor hygiene, tobacco use, disease, side effects of medication, advancing age and genetics.

The major cause of teeth discolouration in Zimbabwe is the drinking of underground water with excess fluorine.

In Zimbabwe, 19 districts with an estimated population of 1,4 million people are affected by this condition. Almost all of the country’s provinces are affected by fluorosis.

In Manicaland, some villagers in Chimanimani, Buhera, Nyanga and Honde Valley are affected by this often misunderstood condition. Gwanda, Beitbridge and Plumtree are among some of the affected areas in Matabeleland South province. In Matabeleland North, Tsholotsho, Binga and Lupane also suffer the tainted teeth scourge.

Both Gokwe North and South, which are in the Midlands province, also suffer the brunt of teeth discolouration. Bikita and Zaka in Masvingo are prone areas and so is Kariba and Rushinga among other areas.

Teeth discolouration is not a worldwide phenomenon and in Africa, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria are among some of the countries that are affected by fluorosis.

Apart from dental fluorosis — which is irreversible — fluorosis also has grave effects on the human body. According to online sources, the condition has such invisible effects on the human body such as immune suppression, brain damage, arthritis, hip-bone fractures and the development of cancer cells.

Victims also suffer loss of vision, kidney damage and both skeletal and crippling fluorosis. Research has shown that teeth discolouration can greatly affect the ability of an individual to participate fully in society.

The condition has psychological and social effects on the affected populations with victims becoming shy, fearful and feeling unwanted. Some of the victims become anti-social, struggle to live a normal life and in some cases, have limited job opportunities.

Those that are exposed to this condition in Zimbabwe and the Southern African region have every reason to cheer. This follows the invention of gadgets which remove excess fluoride in water, thereby reducing the effects of fluorosis in affected communities.

The invention is a first for Zimbabwe and the Southern African region. The gadgets can be used at household level in homes and at community level in schools.

Chengie Deflouridation Technologies is a leading innovation and research organisation in the mitigation of fluorosis in Zimbabwe and other African countries.

Chengetai Dunga — a scientist, inventor and dental practitioner for 20 years — is the brains behind a new technology to help affected people. “Basically, we use plastic containers which we bond with calcium filter pellets which remove excess fluoride in water.

“In simple terms what we do is we put filter cubes and pellets in plastic containers, pour the water and after 30 minutes, the water will be free of fluoride,” Dunga said.

A holder of a Master’s in Oral Epidemiology and Public Health from the University of Western Cape, South Africa, Dunga patented his invention with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation in 2014.

It was also presented to critical acclaim to the Research Council of Zimbabwe and was in 2016, displayed at the Zim Afro-Medical Expo.

According to Dunga — who is based at Birchenough Bridge Hospital in Manicaland — the gadgets cost up to US$45 and can be used for between eight and 12 months.

Researchers in India have defloridated contaminated water, but this has resulted in it changing both colour and taste. Sludge from the process often pollutes the environment.

Dunga says his invention has no such problems. “The water will not lose its taste nor colour. It is a perfect way that is set to change the lives of many,” Dunga said.

Consumption of three grammes of fluoride can result in death. According to online sources, tooth discolouration can cause significant cosmetic problems especially when it affects the outer side of teeth, which is usually exposed when a patient smiles.

In developed countries, tooth discolouration is one of the most frequent reasons for people seeking dental treatment.

Teeth discolouration is a world-wide phenomenon. It has been reported that 34 percent of the adult population in the United States are dissatisfied with the colour of their teeth, with 28 percent of adults in the United Kingdom unhappy with the appearance of their teeth.

The reports states that there has been a recent increase in interest in the treatment of tooth staining and discolouration. Online sources indicates that tooth whitening agents are on the increase in the developed world as patients are not only demanding a healthy mouth but also a perfect smile.

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