It is Mother Teresa who said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person and a beautiful thing.”
Steve Maraboli also noted that it only takes a split second to smile and forget, yet for someone who needed it, it can last a lifetime.
Despite the many attributes of a smile, children being born and brought up in the Great Rift Valley, especially Baringo, Kajiado, Kericho, Laikipia, Nakuru and Narok are under a great risk of not smiling.
Those born in Nairobi and Thika also face the risk.
This is because these areas are classified as the hot spots for excess fluoride. Nakuru, Koibatek and Baringo have the highest concentration in the country due to fluorspar deposits.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum of 1.5 milligrams of fluoride per litre of water for human consumption.
Surface and borehole water in these regions contains fluoride exceeding this limit.
The high levels of fluoride in drinking water cause fluoride poisoning, resulting in fluorosis.
Fluorosis is a disease which develops slowly when humans or animals consume too much fluoride over a long period of time.
“There are two kinds of fluorosis; dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis. Dental fluorosis mainly affects children with developing teeth while Skeletal fluorosis affects both children and adults,” explains Slaton Waiharo, a lecturer at a public university in Nakuru.
Symptoms of fluorosis are browning and chipping off of teeth. The glittering white teeth become dull, lose their shine and develop yellow spots which eventually turn brown and then black.
The teeth then become fragile and brittle.
The other symptom is deformities of the bones.
James Kihoria, is a Sales Assistant at Nakuru Defluoridation Company. His firm is dedicated to research, development and implementation of technology that will remove fluoride from water while ensuring water quality.
He says that skeletal fluorosis is common in areas with fluoride levels exceeding four milligrammes fluoride per litre of water. The bones get thin and overgrow, making movement difficult and painful.
“Despite there being no cure for fluorosis, the disease can easily be prevented. We have developed a locally manufactured defluoridation filter. We use bone char as the filter material,” Mr Kihoria says.
The defluoridisers also known as household filters are marked as 20 litre and 35 litre plastic and metal buckets. The household filters are small and inexpensive. They are suitable for providing a single family with fluoride-free drinking and cooking water. The filters can purify from 15 litres to 50 litres per day.
“There are three types of filters; a combined filter which protects one from both fluoride and bacteria, fluoride only filter and bacteria only filter. Their prices range from Sh3,000 to Sh16,300,” Mr Kihoria says.
The filter material should be changed every two to six years depending on fluoride level and consumption. Filters should also be regularly monitored by taking samples of treated water for fluoride analysis.
Mr Waiharo explains why bone char is used as a filter in the defluoridation process. “The bone char is very rich with calcium phosphate which is known to be a strong absorbent material. It is this calcium phosphate that picks fluoride ion from the water that passes through it, forming a stable compound and leaving the water fluoride-free. This explains why the efficiency of the filter in removing fluoride from water is 99 per cent,” he confidently says.
Bernard Kitur, a resident of Nakuru laments that most of the inhabitants of fluoride hot spots are either ignorant of the dangers posed by high content of fluoride or are just not keen on the quality of water they are using.
He advises parents to be very cautious of both the quality and source of the water they are buying for their domestic use.
“Rain water is very good for drinking. It has less fluoride which can not lead to fluorosis. People should learn to filter water from our bore holes or streams before consuming it. We should also encourage people to harvest more rain water for domestic use,” Mr Kitur says.
Mr James Kihoria has pieces of advice for parents and any other resident of the areas.
“If you truly are a caring parent, then you must have the interests of your young ones at heart. Protect them from fluorosis which erodes their confidence and takes away their nice smile. For as little as Sh3,000, you can get a filter that will protect you and your family from fluoride poisoning,” he says.
His parting shot, “Water is life. But only safe water makes a good smile.”