Worried about maintaining your teeth to old age? An alternative to toothpaste that can effectively clean the mouth and prevent teeth decay is Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides, a local chewing stick known in Yoruba as Orin Ata, a dental expert has said.
Professor Juliana Taiwo, speaking at the 2016/2017 inaugural lecture of the University of Ibadan, entitled “Nature, Disease and Oral Health: The Conspiracy Triad of the Ageing Dentition”, said Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides contains enough fluoride and within a safe limit to prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride in toothpaste has contributed immensely to the prevention of tooth decay worldwide.
According to her, a study that investigated the fluoride content of 10 commonly used chewing sticks in Nigeria found that Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides contained the highest amount of fluoride, a little more than even the affordable fluoride toothpaste.
The chewing sticks tested included Musularia acuminate (Pako Ijebu), Terminalia glycosides (irin idi), Alchorea laxiflora (pepe), Anogeissus leocarparpus (Ayin) and Azadirachta indica(dongoyaro or neem).
The others are Jatropha mutifida (ogege), guava twig, bitter leaf twig and mango twig.
Professor Taiwo said the natural fluoride in Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides was retained in the saliva longer than that in non-herbal fluoride toothpaste.
The expert, who had been working on ensuring a better understanding of the oral health in elderly declared, “Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides if properly and regularly used is likely to confer maximum anti-caries effect and its use should be encouraged among chewing stick users particularly rural dwellers and the elderly.
“Fluoride, therefore, will be easily accessible to the elderly in this environment with little effort and at a very low cost, affordable to the elderly.”
She, nevertheless, said since the chewing stick is being used to clean the teeth, its tuft must be ensured to clean all surfaces of the teeth and the tongue.
“At the community, we found about 70 percent of those elderly using chewing stick were actually just chewing it and not using its tuft to brush their teeth and tongue. So, they end up having a lot of plaque and calculus.”
Professor Taiwo, however, said that unlike the elderly in developed countries where tooth loss was majorly due to tooth decay, the main cause of tooth loss in the elderly in Nigeria is gum disease, accounting for 98. 7 per cent of all teeth lost.
Although the average Nigerian elderly person maintains more of his or her teeth into old age than the white, she expressed concern about the widespread of gum disease in the elderly, a problem that is highly treatable at its early stage.
According to her, gum disease is now established as a precursor for many non-communicable medical conditions even though it starts symptomless and as such people do not seek medical help for its treatment.
She stated: “specific conditions such as severe chronic arthritis and neurological disturbances of motor functions such as stroke have some bearing on the ability of the elderly to maintain a reasonable standard of oral hygiene and oral health.”
Professor Taiwo also said that tooth loss and gum disease were not synonymous with ageing, stating that various studies on the oral health attitude and practices of the elderly in Nigeria show many were not maintaining an adequate level of oral hygiene.
She added: “Many of the oral health problems of elderly like loss of teeth are mainly due to systemic diseases like diabetes, functional disability, cognition impairment, wear and tear of the teeth and its supporting tissues over the years, rather than an age change.”