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Infant Oral Mutilation


What is Infant Oral Mutilation? Infant oral mutilation is the process of gouging out an infant’s healthy baby teeth. A primitive technique is usually employed involving unsterile knives, bicycle spokes or other bizarre and inappropriate instruments. The result is severe pain and confusion, serious future mouth problems and, in the worst case scenario, ends in the death of the child.

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Why is it done? When young children with diarrhoea and fevers are taken to be treated by a local healer the soft white tooth buds are mistaken for the fever causing parasite worms, commonly found in diarrhoea. It is believed that the child is unwell because of these ‘mouth worms’ whereas in reality the cause of the illness is something quite different, often malaria, dehydration, or a stomach bug caused by contaminated water.

Where does it take place? It is a practice which has been observed in much of Africa – Burundi, Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It is a custom that passes between communities and tribes. More recently there have been many reports of children being presented in clinics in the UK, USA, France, Australia, Israel and Norway, raising the question of this practice potentially occurring in migrant populations. For more information on where IOM has been reported please view the IOM map.  

How real is the problem? Very. It is true that some children do die as a direct result of the practice and that the after effects are hugely detrimental to the child in terms of serious future dental problems such as facial disfigurement, damage to gums and the permanent teeth.

IOM-evidence-schools-progr For photos of Sudanese children with orthodontic problems following a history of IOM in infancy,Click Here

In one region of Uganda, infant deaths due to septicaemia and other infections following Infant Oral Mutilation are reported to be second only to malaria as a cause of infant mortality.

 What is Dentaid going to do about it? The charity created an IOM Action Group of health professionals to collate all available evidence on this practice, and an Overview document, reviewing current knowledge on the subject, has been produced. This, and a Literature Analysis of all available published papers to aid researchers into the subject, can be accessed at IOM Materials. The Group has also produced an IOM Information leaflet for the use of health workers and teachers in the IOM-affected countries to use as an educational aid. This leaflet has been translated into French, Luganda  and Kiswahili. 


During the Dentaid Oral Health Promotion Programme in Uganda, many cases of Infant Oral Mutilation have been seen in the children who have been screened. The practice leads to the deformation of the underlying adult teeth. It also leads to disfigurement of the mouth and face due to the damage to gums and permanent teeth.

These children however are the relatively lucky ones. Some children suffer much more serious consequences of the practice such as life threatening infections like septicaemia, tetanus and noma which lead to serious illness or death. Many more suffer or die as a result of their original illness not being correctly diagnosed and treated in the first instance.

class-room-in-kantare-school-rhlDentaid is determined to see an end to this practice and believes that education is the key to achieving this. Following the Dentaid Oral Health Promotion Programme run in fifteen schools in Uganda it was recognised that more information on the practice of IOM should be included in future programmes. Educational initiatives will also be extended into the local communities and aimed predominantly at reaching parents and traditional healers. This is essential to the success of eradicating the practice of IOM and ensuring that all these children will survive unscarred to receive an education in the future.


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