Phu Yen's "Village of lost teeth"

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Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists, Phu Yen, Vietnam

Nearly everyone in a village in the central province of Phu Yen suffer from severe dental problems leading eventually to tooth loss, and they blame it on the water source.



Water source blamed for tooth loss in Go Mia

The people of Go Mia Hamlet, in Hoa Dinh Tay Commune, regardless of age, do not dare smile at strangers. Major dental problems there have become so ubiquitous that the place has come to be known in the region as the "Village of lost teeth".

Lam, a 45-year old local man in Hoa Dinh Tay Commune said, “Everyone in the hamlet, from the young to the old, men and women, all lose their teeth. People here try to avoid going out as much as possible. They work the fields and then hide in their houses, trying to avoid contact with strangers.”

Tran, a 34-year old woman from the hamlet, is one such person. She now only has six teeth, two of which are little more than stumps while the other four have turned black.

Her teeth started to decay when she was 20, and by the age of 32 had only six left. "If you were to cover my face and only see my mouth you would probably think I was an elderly woman," she said.

All four members of 42-year old Tien's family have also lost teeth. Recently, they have had to switch to a diet of rice gruel. "I'm so embarrassed when I have to do things like attending weddings. I completely avoid joining in on activities like singing," Tien lamented.

According to Lam, children in Go Mia Hamlet usually start to show visible signs of tooth decay around the age of ten, when they begin to turn yellow. By the time they hit puberty, most children's teeth have already started to turn black, and when they become old enough to marry some teeth have already fallen out.

"Many young women from the hamlet have a hard time finding a spouse," he added.

Even though the village is comprised mainly of farmers, many families have had to spend millions of VND on dental care.

“I bought artificial teeth for Tet. They cost VND5 million (USD236.8). Now I feel more confident when I talk to people. Before that, I would never speak in class," said one high school student.

Go Mia is a poor and isolated hamlet and home to around 25 families and 100 people. Residents say that they have asked for help from medical officials and the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment. They eventually came to the conclusion that it was the village's water supply causing the problems.

Most of those who suffer from severe tooth decay grew up in the village or have lived there for years.

Nguyen Phi Ho, Vice Chairman of the communal People’s Committee, said that a clean water system was built at a cost of over VND3 billion (USD142,079) several years ago, but people no longer use it because of the distance residents had to travel. Now the system is idle and aging.

Many of the village's residents still use water from local streams for daily use. Some have dug wells and only a few families were able to install a water purification systems.