Plastic teeth

A week ago our medical team was chased away from the village near the coast. Angry, dangerous looking men threatened us with spears and bows and arrows.

Later when tempers had calmed some of the team carefully approached the village again.
The villagers were angry and frightened because they thought we were a family planning team entering their compound. In 1985 some of our Kenyan people believed that family planning teams would kill or steal babies and small children. Many men didn’t want to use birth control anyway. They liked to have several wives and wanted plenty of children to look after them in their old age.
When we explained that we were a medical research team, not a family planning clinic, the village leaders agreed to listen to what the team leaders had to say and arrangements were made to return the next day with the full team.

The following morning, early, before the sun was too hot, the truck was loaded up with specimen pots, blood taking equipment, weighing scales, height measuring stadiometers, medicines, examination couches and all the other gear for the clinic. The doctors from England, the enthusiastic paediatrician, the fierce parasitologist, the trim nutritionist, and the African technicians and nurses all piled in. We crossed the Kilifi river on the trusty old ferry, bought freshly roasted cashew nuts from the riverside vendors, and the long drive up the coast road began.

This time when we arrived in the village although the reception wasn’t exactly friendly we were not threatened.  The day was hot and dry and the drive had been dusty. After we drank some coconut water the white paediatrician stood up under a large shady mango tree. The elders, men and women, sat quietly in a group on the ground under another tree at a safe distance of ten or fifteen yards. An excited group of younger women sat separately. A few older children played around the mud and wattle houses but the young children and babies were kept safely out of the way.
The white doctor speaking in very bad Swahili went through the ritual he had learned. Jambo. Habari. Salamat. The elders nodded.
Then through the lips of the interpreter he said that we wanted to help the people by finding out more about malaria, schistosomiasis and the other diseases that affected them and we hoped to find better treatments and vaccines. But first we needed to know more about which diseases were the main problems in the area and so we needed to examine the people and take specimens of blood, urine and faeces. He said we would see any sick people in the village and give them treatment.

After some heated discussion amongst the elders the big man of the village stood up to speak and the interpreter translated for the foreigners. Politely he welcomed the team to the village and apologised for the previous day’s attack. He said that the elders were interested in what the doctor had said but that there had been no mention of their main health problem which was that many of their babies were born with plastic teeth. The village people were very worried about this. The government was doing nothing about it and the local medicine men were removing plastic teeth from most of the babies in the area. This was done in the early months otherwise the babies became sick at around six months of age with diarrhoea and vomiting and many died. The villagers wanted to know why this was happening and what could be done to prevent the problem.

The foreign doctor was puzzled but we local health workers of course knew that village doctors were removing milk or deciduous teeth from under the babies’ gums saying they were plastic teeth. We thought this belief had started some years earlier in Uganda and had spread. People did not understand that it was normal for babies to have unerupted teeth under the gums. They believed that infant teeth started to grow only at the time they appeared through the gums.
Many babies had severe infections or bleeding after the operation and some died.
Of course the real explanation for the many babies who died at about six months of age was gastroenteritis caused by bottle feeding which was often introduced at that age. The foreign doctors and we African health workers said these teeth were normal and not the cause of the babies’ illnesses but the villagers of course didn’t believe us.

Three days later I was walking along the village road in the morning with my baby Margaret, feeling very scared. The rest of the team drove past and when they saw me they stopped the truck and said “Hey Nurse Elizabeth where are you going with your baby?” I was ashamed and didn’t tell them where I was going. But I could tell they knew. Well of course we all knew that the plastic teeth epidemic was based on a myth. We health workers taught that all the time. But I knew that most of the team had had their babies’ teeth removed to be on the safe side, just in case the medicine men were right. I was terrified that my baby would get sick after the operation. But what else could I do? I couldn’t afford to take any chances. If she died at six months and I hadn’t had those teeth removed, I could never have forgiven myself.

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26 Responses to Plastic teeth

  1. Macharia says:

    Great to learn about plastic teeth. Mine has the same; he’s one month old. Recently, my wife noticed a white blister on the side of the upper gum; the same is also seen on the lower side but not as clear as the one on top. Kindly please, could this be plastic teeth, and how should we go about it? I had from someone that the best thing is to scrub using ashton although I’ve not tried it out. Am scared please advice.


  2. mary says:

    scrub the gum with nderema’

  3. David says:

    the plastic thing is a real thing 4 sure.i took my baby for its removal.


  4. Rose says:

    Pls very worried of my nephew.he has the so called ‘plastic teeth’.his mom wish 2 take him 4 worried of the pain and what may happen next.tell us what we should do.he gets sick frm time 2 time and refuse 2 breastfeed.PLEASE HELP!

    • steve says:

      My baby is only 5 days old and had sleepless night and could not brearest feed and to take for removal of the plastic teeth. She is now sound and good.

  5. alicia says:

    the same thing also happend to my baby,shes 5 months infact i neva thought of such things existing,plastic teeth are there for real ,she was safely removed by cutting them tho its a painful experience but better to save your baby

  6. My son is two monts old he has developed that problem of plastick teeth.kindly help me.

  7. Nosipho Nkosi says:

    Yes. My friend has a five month old baby and is looking to do the same thing – removing her baby’s “plastic teeth”, but I fail to believe they are a real cause for concern or actually exist for that fact. I am worried that she will be spending money that she does not have on a procedure which is completely unnecessary. I couldn’t find any proper information on this phenomenon anywhere else on the internet (which seems to be the bona fide go-to place for quick and easy medical information these days), so I can’t help but be cynical.
    Please help.

  8. Stannoz says:

    Pple shuld learn more about health!

  9. soni says:

    my two months baby had been crying most times and refusing to breastfeed since she was born..when she was one and half months it became unbearable.i took her to an old woman who found out she had false teeth and was removed.that night,baby had a peaceful sleep..plastic teeth are there fo real,and can kill the baby if nt removed early

  10. david says:

    thanks Mary for your help.

  11. nancy says:

    i do not belief these fables of plastic teeth

    • then what would you call this condition dear Nancy

      • nancy says:

        Francis,I woud suggest that the young babies coud be suffering from any other diseases which can easily b treated in the modern hospitals.let no one look for the disease in the childs mouth
        .when my daughter was 3 months old,I was told she had the plastic teeth.icoud only see some whitish presentation.I declined to take her4 removal.nothing hapend 2 her.what do you think?fables?

  12. My daughter is hardly 12days old and already has the so called plastic teeth. And the way my neighbours are raising the alarm, I guess this is one hell on earth.
    Guys one blessed woman, out of experience asks me not to waste money on operations/ medications; that there is a master herb for the menace.
    Do I cross my fingers and wait for this typical healing? Guys advice.

    • gich says:

      ma daughter 2 months had them removed a week ago she is fine… i wonder why doctors dont agree to this thing. dentists told us not to worry nothing was wrong but the kid was getting no better finally the old granny removed them.. painful thoug bt within 48 hrs she was ok

  13. Lynne says:

    My baby is 2months old n he has the ‘false teeth’ im so worried.pls help

  14. Kareez H. says:

    Guys, plastic teeth are real! ma son @ 4-5months had some serious protracted greenish and mucous- like diarrhea. We tried almost every hospital around Mombasa where we had all sorts of tests done- stool, malaria, full haemo but nothing was showing. I almost gave up when ma friend visited me and on observing ma baby, he told me about those teeth that i had never heard of before. He took me to a certain woman who squeezed the teeth out with some freshly cut leaves. Since that day, ma boy has been excellent!

  15. christine g says:

    there is nothing like plastic teeth.its a foolish myth that is used by illiterate group of people. i work in a pharmacy and its so annoying anytime i hear that name ‘plastic teeth’.its so unethical n anyone caught doing this should b is a complete tourture of a child.aaargh!

    • nancy says:

      Hi christine.These people who come to the chemist to seek for assistance have an experience and a story.They need assistance
      They are not criminals!

  16. Liz says:

    Mine has them and av taken for removal 3times and still growing. What shuld i do?

  17. faith mwinzi says:

    my son is 4 months old now, he had plastic teeth at 2 months and I removed them, he Is now ok and doing well,

  18. Julius jully says:

    My daughter has same problems

  19. teresia adhiambo says:

    My daughter has same problem bt I havent seen any sign

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