A dental expert has sounded the alarm about the growing incidence of dental illness among the Saudi population, saying that the Kingdom has the largest number of patients in the world suffering from tooth decay. “This is the highest rate of tooth decay cases compared to any country of the world,” said Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Obaida, a professor at the Riyadh-based King Saud University (KSU). Al-Obaida is a dental expert with specializations in root canals and diseases related to tooth decay.
Dr. Al-Obaida, while giving an overview of the prevalence of various dental diseases in different age groups in the Kingdom, said that “the high rate of dental diseases will result in the national economy losing billions of riyals in coming years if preventive and unconventional measures are not taken soon.” He also said that “the inclusion of dental care in the nation’s health insurance plans would significantly curtail major problems in all age groups, particularly among children.”
According to Dr. Al-Obaida, nine out of 10 seven-year-olds suffer from tooth decay and 93 percent of children six to eight years old suffer from other dental ailments. He pointed out that the rate for children in the latter age group in Britain is virtually non-existent, while 24 percent in the United States and 39 percent in Ireland suffer from tooth problems. Official statistics reveal that the Kingdom has the greatest number of tooth decay cases in the world, and teeth and mouth disease rates have reached record proportions.
To this end, Dr. Al-Obaida emphasized that many developed nations have succeeded in sharply reducing their tooth-decay rates through preventive programs and health awareness education. “I propose a program in which the government buys an insurance policy for each student in the first year of elementary school, via insurance companies, and these companies should fulfill three duties: cleaning teeth, polishing teeth and providing training on the proper use of oral and tooth hygiene,” he said.
He said that this would involve training the parents accompanying their children and manufacturing the protective cover, which is the key step to protecting the four permanent teeth, which are newly visible among six to seven-year-old children. Medical insurance workers indicate that insurance companies can be contracted to present these services to students, making sure they are offered as required. The contract mechanism and policy cost can be studied in detail.
Referring to the benefits of such insurance programs, Dr. Al-Obaida said that the program would certainly reduce families’ financial burdens resulting from their children’s tooth decay. It would reduce private and public spending on dental treatment and reduce the strain on the Ministry of Health’s clinics and private clinics, as well. The program also would contribute to a generation free from mouth and tooth diseases and would reduce the number of school absences, thus alleviating the educational impact of tooth decay.
“The application of this project will greatly benefit the nation and the citizens,” Dr. Al Obaida said, adding that every riyal spent on prevention will save 50 riyals in treatment. The price of this insurance policy for the student will be approximately 50 riyals, but will save the state more than 5,000 riyals, if counted in the long term compared to the cost borne by the state. Ministry of Education statistics show the number of students registered in the first year of elementary school was 409,184 during the academic year 2009-2010, with 202,925 male and 206,259 female students.
Enrolment has continued to grow this year. Finance, however, is just the top priority of an overall program involving several other factors. Another important strategy would be the addition of fluoride in the drinking water and using adhesive plastic tooth covers that are normally painted over the grinding surface of the tooth to seal cracks in the back teeth as soon as they emerge in the child’s mouth at the age of six years.
Asked about the importance of fluoride, he pointed out that fluoride is critical, when one considers that it reduces tooth decay by 29 percent when applied four times in two years and 47 percent when applied six times in three years “Fluoridation can make tooth enamel more immune against acids produced by bacteria and therefore tooth decay,” Dr. Al Obaida said. Fluoride hinders the dissolution of the tooth enamel by the acid.
He pointed out that fluoride stimulates the remineralization (calcium enrichment through saliva) of early defects and hinders the plaque bacteria’s production of acids. Fluoride is used locally in the form of varnish or jelly for fluoridization. He said that Britain has been able to reduce the percentage of [baby teeth] cavities by 55 percent in five-year-olds and permanent adult teeth cavities by 75 percent in 12-year-olds.
In contrast, the percentage of Saudi children with no teeth cavities shot from 28 to 55 percent among 5-year-olds and from 7 to 50 percent among 12-year-olds. The application of cavity fillers to permanent teeth could also be a major factor. These fillers are known for their effectiveness against tooth decay which reaches 83 percent in one year and 53 over 15 years, he explained. “I hope decision makers in the Kingdom will adopt this program in concept and content, as it features unconventional methods of prevention and awareness to reduce the high rate of tooth disease,” Dr. Al Obaida said.

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