Oral health problems are significant cause of morbidity particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, routine health management information system data over the years showed that oral health problems were one of the top ten reasons for outpatient attendance. However, to date, no national oral survey has been carried out to determine the prevalence of oral health problems.
A national population-based cross-sectional survey was conducted in 2013. A total of 130 enumeration areas (EAs) were randomly selected and from each EA, 40 participants were randomly selected as per WHO STEPS survey protocol. Eligible participants were 12, 15, 35–44 and 65–74 year old. A multi-stage sampling design was used to obtain a national representative sample of these age groups. Oral examination was based on WHO diagnostic criteria (2010).
A total of 5400 participants were enrolled in the survey. Of these: 3304 (61.3 %) were females, 2090 (38.7 %) were males; 327 (6.9 %) were from urban and 4386 (93.1 %) from rural areas; 1115 (20.6 %), 993 (17.3 %), 2306 (42.7 %) and 683 (12.6 %) were aged 12, 15, 35–44, 65–74 years respectively. Among 12 year-old, 15 year-old, 35–44 and 65–74 year age groups, prevalence of dental caries was 19.1, 21.9, 49.0 and 49.2 % respectively, overall 37.4 %. Prevalence of missing teeth was 2.7, 5.2, 47.7 and 79.9 %, overall 35.2 %. Prevalence of filled teeth was 0.2 %, 1.3 %, 8.7 %, 12.7 %, overall 6.5 %. Prevalence of bleeding gums was 13.0, 11.8, 30.8 and 36.1 %, overall 23.5 %. Toothache, dental caries and missing teeth were more common in females than males; 46.5 % vs 37.9 %, 40.5 % vs 32.4 %, 37.7 % vs 30.1 % respectively, all p < 0.05. Prevalence of dental caries and missing teeth in urban areas were as high as in the rural areas; 33.3 % vs 37.4 % and 30.9 % vs 33.7 % respectively, all p > 0.05. The mean number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) in 12, 15, 35–44, 65–74 year old was 0.67, 0.71, 3.11 and 6.87 respectively. Self- reported brushing of teeth was poor with only 35.2 % of people brushed their teeth twice a day and tobacco smoking was high, particularly among adult males where one in five (22.9 %) was a smoker.
This study demonstrated that oral health problems are major public health problems in Malawi. One in five (21 %) adolescents aged 12–15 years and half (49 %) of adults aged 35 years or more had dental caries, half (48 %) and 80 % of the population aged 35–44, 65–74 years had missing teeth respectively. Toothache, dental caries and missing teeth were more prevalent in females than males and prevalence in urban was as high as in rural areas. Oral hygiene was poor with less than 40 % of the population brush their teeth twice a day and tobacco smoking was high, particularly in men where prevalence was 23 %. These findings could be used to develop evidence-informed national policy, action and resource mobilization plan and community based interventions to reduce the prevalence of oral health problems in Malawi.