29 Jul 2022

Dentist wants action to reverse high levels of child tooth decay

10:40 am on 29 July 2022

A paediatric dentist in Fiji is dedicating his career to improving dental health outcomes for the South Pacific.

Decay is one of the most chronic childhood diseases in Fiji and New Zealand, and a leading cause for admissions to hospital.

Jason Nath is urging people to take better care of their teeth in order to protect children from developing health issues like diabetes.

"The dream from here would be the next generation of children growing up without fillings in their mouths," said Nath.

A young girl gets her teeth checked

A young girl gets her teeth checked Photo: Jason Nath

He graduated in Fiji as a dentist in 2008 and spent the early years of his career working at a hospital in Suva where he served the community including schools and prisons.

Nath later won a Manaaki New Zealand scholarship to complete his Postgraduate Clinical Doctoral Degree in paediatric dentistry at the University of Otago where he researched reversing early stages of tooth decay by alternative means to fluoride.

He now teaches at the Fiji National University's School of Dentistry where he hopes to inspire and share his knowledge with students.

Fiji's resource-limited setting means dentists can only provide basic restorative care and extractions.

Far too many young Pacific children and adults are losing their teeth and that needs to change, he said.

His focus is on building a solid database in Fiji to secure funding for much-needed oral healthcare programmes.

"The ownership is with the Ministry of Health or the government of the day to invest in such surveys."

An Oral Health survey in 2004 found 80 percent of children aged five had dental decay.

His next step is to assess Fiji's regional trends of paediatric dental care and oral diseases to develop a strong approach to community oral health.

"People need to understand there is no general health without oral health."

'Talk about mouth health'

He appealed to the general health care workforce of the Pacific to put as much emphasis on oral health and "talk about the health of the mouth."

Accrediting Fiji's School of Dentistry was also on the radar, as the school aims to increase its number of qualified teaching staff.

Jason Nath

Jason Nath Photo: Jason Nath

Nath said age-related health literacy was an area that had been neglected.

"The longer we take to eat, the longer you expose your teeth to bacteria that attacks enamel."

As for infants, "when a baby is unsettled refrain from using a honey-dip pacifier. Don't put a child to sleep with a bottle in their mouth."

The consequences of this are we are seeing children with "grossly decayed" teeth.

People are also "presenting to the dentists very late, not only in Fiji but in New Zealand as well."

We need to change the culture and understanding around dentistry as a preventable service, not a last resort measure, he said, because by then it's too late.