Integrating oral health into the Primary Health Care (PHC) system would improve oral health in Nigeria, a dentist, Prof. Olawunmi Solanke has said.
Solanke, who lectures at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, made assertion in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Lagos.
“To address the problem of access, the integration of oral health into PHC activities remains the most feasible action for achieving equity in oral health.
“This is because the present curative high technology approach is not realistic for most low and middle-income countries.
“Presently, there are about 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Nigeria with existing PHC facilities.
“If each LGA can have one centrally located dental centre, oral health will be brought nearer to more people who desire it.
“To be successful, local government authorities must have the political will; this can only happen if policy makers believe that oral health care is important to their people,’’ she said.
The dentist said that integration of oral health into PHC was also cost-effective as existing infrastructure would be used and capital expenditure would be minimal.
According to her, other advantages of integration are use of available manpower by training and retraining the community health workers with a dentist paying regular scheduled visits.
“These advantages would improve access to the grassroots; however, there are possible constraints.
“One is financial; an additional component to the present PHC system obviously means additional financial commitment by the LGA responsible for PHCs.
“Also, there is the challenge of lack of equipment and materials, perception of dental professionals in their unwillingness to accept non-dental persons to carry out oral health services,’’ Solanke said.
According to her, there is a need to change the perceptions of policymakers about the importance of oral health in relation to general health.
The dentist added that perception change required advocacy to inform individuals at local, state and federal levels.
“The Nigerian Dental Association and the Nigeria Medical Association need to form alliances to lobby for legislation favourable to the inclusion of oral health in healthcare policy.
“There is also need to change the perceptions of healthcare workers in terms of education, collaborations and attitudes toward referral systems,’’ she said.
Solanke said that essential oral health, including basic prevention, should be part of universal health coverage.
She said that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should be restructured to provide cover for basic and essential emergency care as well as prevention for oral diseases.
“National public health initiatives for the control and prevention of disease need to include oral health promotion.
“So also, integrated disease prevention strategies based on the common risk factor approaches,’’ the dentist said. (NAN)