News spotlight: Tooth worms and mutilation

One of dental charity Dentaid’s major drives is to bring to the attention of the western dental world the shocking and barbaric practice of infant oral mutilation (IOM).

In much of eastern Africa – Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – the digging out of an infant’s healthy baby teeth is commonplace; the teeth being removed in the mistaken belief that the soft white buds are worms.

These ‘tooth worms’ are believed to be parasitic and fever-causing so that, when a child is presented with an illness, they’re taken to be the cause.

Primitive methods of gouging out baby teeth includes knives, bicycle spokes, fingernails or any instrument on which they can lay their hands.

The practice is often carried out by village healers for a fee. It is also performed by parents, community elders and even midwives. The tragedy is that they believe that they are helping to cure the child.

Andy Jong explains: ‘It is a shocking practice and Dentaid is committed to working towards ways of eradicating this. We have a very active IOM action group and we’re testing some educational resources in the field and building up a map showing incidences where this has been observed.

‘This follows on from the extensive resource library on the subject which the action group has compiled.

The action group consists of dental personnel from general practice,  community and dental public health, several of whom have first-hand experience of working in IOM countries.

It’s been working to build a solid foundation of knowledge and expertise from which Dentaid could launch this campaign. Infants often suffer from future facial disfigurement, damage to the gums and the permanent teeth following the removal of their health deciduous teeth.

In one region of Uganda, infant deaths due to septicaemia and other infectious diseases, following IOM, are reported to be second only to malaria as a cause of infant mortality.

Andy says: ‘One of the most serious problems of IOM is that the misdiagnosis of “tooth worms” as the cause of the illness means missing the real reason that the child is ill. Many illnesses that could be cured if caught early on may well cause much more serious illness or potentially death if left undiagnosed and untreated.’

More recently, there have been several reports of children being presented in Western clinics, raising the question of this practice potentially occurring in migrant populations.

For information about the charity, email Andy at [email protected] or visit

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