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Thu 18 Oct 2007 06:01 PM

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Hot seat: Dr Nasser Malik

Assistant director of dental services at DoHMS on why region has some of worst cases of tooth decay.

The UAE has some of the region's worst cases of tooth decay - especially in children. Ahead of the World Dental Federation's annual congress from October 24-27, which will see about 20,000 dentists descend on Dubai, Time Out spoke to Dr Nasser Malik, assistant director for dental services at Dubai's Department of Health and Medical Services.

20,000 dentists in one place at the same time - that's enough to strike fear into most people. Why should anyone not involved in the profession care?

Alongside the conference we're trying to start several programmes, mainly in the preventative area. One example is a school dental programme, where we will visit schools and raise awareness in how important it is for children to take care of their teeth. Professionals will also be able to get the latest information, as it is constantly changing and being updated. So from a public and an industry point of view, it's very important. It's the first time it's been held in the Middle East or any Arabic country. We've been working on it for six years now.

How are people's teeth in the UAE?

Unfortunately, the last study that was done a couple of years ago by the Ministry of Health put the UAE as a seven or eight on the DMFT (Decayed Missing Filled Teeth) index. The index tells us the status of somebody's teeth by giving us a rating; number one is the best and as you go up, it keeps getting worse and worse. The average numbers in most developed countries, like Sweden or Denmark, are around two or three.

But here in the UAE we're running between seven and eight on the index, which is very high. When children are two years old, they have all their primary teeth, about 20 in total. That high rating means half of those teeth are decayed.

Why is this so high?

There are so many factors; it could be education, the level of awareness among people. Unfortunately the water supply here is not fluoridated here. I have been working on a small campaign, three or four years ago to change that. Unfortunately it was kind of shut down because they looked at a couple of crazy things on websites which said fluoride is used in bombs. There are some controversies surrounding using fluoridated water. Although, the WHO, American, British and other European dental associations - accredited agencies - encourage using fluoride.

The US is a very good example.

They started doing it the1950s when the country had a high rate of tooth decay.

It took a long time, maybe 20 years, but by the 70s, tooth decay levels had dropped more than 50 per cent. Once you have it in the water, you have it on the food and so you don't really have to worry about it.

Are there any other ways you've been looking at?.

We have a preventative programme where we examine children when mothers come in for vaccinations; we give them advice and fluoride drops.

But this way they have to do it every day, for the rest of their life. It would be easier to have it in the water.

Is the private sector doing enough to educate about prevention, or are they only here to turn a quick profit and nothing else?

No, not really because people will still go with broken teeth and other things that will always need fixing. Also no dentist wants a patient undoing all their hard work, with a filling for example. They have a reputation to maintain as well; they don't want someone saying, ‘I have to keep coming back here every six months, you're a bad dentist.'

Is there a different attitude within the many nationalities in the UAE?

I don't think nationality has anything to do with it. It's down to the education of the parents, no matter where they're from originally. Children with parents who are more educated will visit the dentists more regularly and generally know more about keeping their teeth clean.

What would you say to parents who cave in and buy their kids sweets virtually on demand?

Just remember a sweet is a pleasure for five or ten minutes; the cavity and filling they'll eventually get from eating lots of sweets will last forever. And the pain you have to go through if you have a filling, and the infections around it... is it worth it? A lot of people think ‘I can't give my children any sweets or chocolate at all. But it's fine to do so as long as they brush afterwards and take good care of their teeth.

Do dentists have a sweet tooth? If so, what's your favourite choccie bar?

[laughs] Oh yeah, I like Bounty bars, they're my favourite.

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