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Published:September 17th, 2007 04:47 EST

Longonot, the toothless residents and the young old

By Juliet Maruru

Mount Longonot is a dormant stratovolcano located southeast of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, Africa. It is estimated to have last erupted in the 1860s. Its name is derived from the Masai word Oloonong'ot, meaning mountains of many spurs or steep ridges.

I went to the area surrounding Mt.Longonot as part of a volunteer group. I was apprehensive about all the usual things a young woman who has grown up in a medium size city would be worried about when going out to a remote village away from most city amenities.

Well, it wasnít as bad as I thought it would be. Then I started noticing things about the people we were meeting there. They were all warm, hospitable and generally kind people. It was quite enjoyable to meet up with them and get to know them if only just briefly.

I donít think it was possible for any in our group of volunteers to ignore what we all noticed. Nearly all people we met had badly discolored teeth and very many of them above the age of 40 have lost some or all their teeth. Also, the residents of Longonot seem to age faster than they should.

I tried to find out what the residents think about it. Most of them blame the water. Maybe they are right. The water in the Longonot area is colored and tastes quite unlike the water we were used to. Someone suggested that the water has more than or less than the usual amount of fluoride. I would rather not make any assumptions until a qualified scientist can verify that. A retired doctor mentioned that the area has volcanic rocks, therefore volcanic soil which may have properties that contribute to the premature aging and loss of teeth.

What I know for sure is that very many people in the Longonot area are having to go through the pain of losing their teeth, and because many of them cannot afford what modern medicine can offer in the way of replacements many are having to go on with life on a restricted diet and without a smile that can show off teeth.

I talked to Mary wa Chege. She tells me she is only 45 years old. She has only three teeth, one on the upper gum and two in the lower. Her skin has aged to such an extent that she looks a lot like my grandma did at 78. Her body is bent double as she talks to me about her oldest son who is 27. For a moment I think that perhaps there has been some miscalculation in her years, but she assures me that she was born on November 12, 1962, was married 17 years later sometime in March, 1979, and gave birth to her first child 10 months later in mid-January, 1980. I have no words at this point.

Maryís story is not the only one I have heard and seen for myself. Now, I need to know for sure if something in the environment of Mt. Longonot is causing the problems I am seeing. So I am writing to a few experts about this. I will keep you posted.

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