Although not common in urban areas, false teeth (Ebinnyo) also referred to as ‘killer canines’ were once a serious disorder among babies. After effects of traditional treatment methods that were commonly used by local communities can be spotted from missing canine teeth among some adults who suffered this condition during childhood.
The local communities termed them as false/unwanted teeth that needed to be removed for the child to get relief from their effects such as fever, diarrhoea and vomiting, among others. These communities embarked on an extremely crude way of removing the teeth from the helpless babies without any form of anaesthesia or sterilised equipment.
In some communities, it was believed that such teeth are ‘maggots’ and traditional healers used knitting needles, bicycle spokes, scissors or broken glass to extract the teeth and afterwards treated the wound with herbs.
Sam Lwanga, a herbalist, says health is compromised when multiple false teeth extractions occur at ago.
John Ouma grew up with his grandmother in a remote village in Gulu District. He realised that some of his teeth were missing at childhood but it was not a big deal, only that he had difficulty eating some foods such as meat and sugarcane.
He later came to learn that his teeth were crudely removed at infancy after his uncle’s child also suffered the same condition and he clearly observed how he was treated. Some other family members also had their canines missing, hence it looked normal.
When he migrated to Kampala for further education, he discovered that other people had their teeth intact. At school, he was given all sorts of nicknames and he ended up losing his self-esteem.
Sympathisers thought he was involved in an accident and lost his teeth but he could not reveal that his teeth had been removed before they developed due to a disorder, as this would sound barbaric.
“I grew up without those teeth but in the village it was normal. However, now that I started seeing people in towns buying artificial teeth to replace missing teeth, it clearly showed that lacking teeth was a serious problem,” he says.
“I advise people, especially from my village to avoid the improper traditional treatment methods since they are against children’s’ rights and can even cause adverse effects,” he adds.
When they occur
According to Dr John Kimbe, a dentist, biologically, false teeth (ebinnyo) are referred to as eruption cysts, a condition that happens in babies mostly below six months. They appear as bluish-purple or reddish-brown, translucent bumps or bruises in the soft gum tissue over an erupting tooth.
Because eruption cysts have no specific cause, Africans mostly in Uganda linked them to witchcraft and resorted to traditional means of treating them. Dr Kimbe says while eruption cysts sometimes disappear on their own, they may hurt, bleed or become infected.
He adds that surgical treatment is recommended to drain the contents of the eruption cyst and expose the tooth so it can erupt through the gums.
“The treatment process is called incision and drainage, where a simple surgical incision may be necessary to drain the contents of the cyst. After this, the child is given an antibiotic such as amoxicillin and an anti-inflammatory such as paracetamol,” Dr. Kimbe says.
Within three days the symptoms that may include diarrhoea and fever will begin to subside and complete healing is achieved in a week.
During the healing process, Dr Kimbe emphasises good oral hygiene in the child and swabbing the mouth with cotton dipped in salty water every after a meal.
Downside of traditional treatment
Unknowingly, with this method, it is the developing tooth bud that is being removed and this may cause complications such as over-bleeding, septicemia (blood poisoning), and risk of transmission of blood infections such as hepatitis B and HIV. “This way, the child’s teeth would not grow again or may appear malformed,” says Dr Kimbe.
Since symptoms such as fever or diarrhoea in infants are not treated by the traditionalists, there is the likelihood of the pre-existing illness worsening, resulting in death. The surrounding tissues can also be damaged, leading to severe complications.
There are a lot of myths concerning false teeth as some people believe they are hereditary whereas others link them to witchcraft as well as improper behaviour by expectant mothers. Dr Kimbe stresses that it has never been scientifically proven that false teeth are hereditary.
Anecdotal and published evidence suggests that these conditions are associated with moderate to severe childhood diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Dr Kimbe warns that seeking care from traditional healers may delay lifesaving care from modern health practitioners.
“This disorder should be dealt with by a dentist and it is not advisable to opt for traditional methods as they may make the situation severe or infect the gum,” he says.
Gertrude Nakato, a nurse, says since there is no proven scientific way of preventing eruption cysts, one should practice good oral hygiene to prevent an eruption cyst from becoming infected.
She adds that symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and vomiting should be treated as soon as possible to save the child’s life, adding that since there is no outlined treatment for false teeth, the visible symptoms have to be dealt with first.
Nakato says cysts should not be poked or tampered with by any unsterilised material. Instead, the babies should be taken to a dentist for examination.
Parents and caretakers should also be counselled as this condition creates fear and panic and they end up making mistakes.