Grouchy Smurf is Grumpy: On Globally Relevant Research

I’m a bit of a Grinch. Or a grump, or maybe just a cynic.

Anyway, I read this article about how poor dental health can lead to pneumonia, therefore you must brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. The research was done by the Yale University School of Medicine, so I don’t for a moment doubt its legitimacy. They were also open-minded enough to mention that the precise relationship between oral bacteria and pneumonia must still be determined.

However, I fail to see the importance of such research in the context of health in the 21st century.

The countries where the general standard of living is high enough to worry about regular teeth brushing also happen to be the countries where health care is of such quality that pneumonia need no longer be a death sentence.

It is the countries where the majority population is so poor that they can hardly afford porridge – never mind toothpaste – that pneumonia is also a much greater threat to a person’s health.

In my country – which happens to be considered one of the wealthier African countries – it is thought that at least 40% individuals live on less than ZAR8 (that’s 1USD) a day. A loaf of bread costs ZAR9,50. A carton of milk costs ZAR10.

So where on earth are they supposed to get ZAR18 for a toothbrush, or ZAR12 for a tube of toothpaste, or heaven forbid, ZAR30 for some dental floss?

All practical considerations aside, there is another reason that other health considerations are more important than oral health. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy? The theory is that only once basic needs are fulfilled, can one move on to social needs and eventually self-actualisation. And when one has to choose between feeding your crying child a bowl of porridge or keeping their pearly whites pearly… you know what’s gonna win.

Then there’s public healthcare, which is in many areas not up to scratch. I daresay an inpatient has a greater chance of contracting nosocomial pneumonia than getting it from poor dental hygiene. Never mind the incidence of AIDS-related pneumonia.

I get that this research was done in a different country, but I believe that in the 21st century medical research should aim to be globally relevant if we want to improve the state of our large, interwoven society.

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