I can’t sleep, and sometimes I stay awake all night from the pain I endure in my teeth. Doctors are always telling me that Qat is one of the main causes responsible for the ruin of my teeth,” said Abdullah Ismaeel, 12 years old.
Abdullah usually visits the dentist to care for his teeth, which have been destroyed by chewing Qat. The latest report by Abdullah’s doctor confirms that he needs two root canals performed, while his other teeth also have problems which will require treatment of a different nature.
Abdullah said, “I have been chewing Qat for 3 years now as a result of initially accompanying my father to Qat sessions. My father gives me Qat all of the time, thinking that chewing it will make me a stronger man.”
According to Abdullah, he is unable to eat any solid foods, even meat, because of the pain that comes while chewing. “When I go out with my friends I cannot enjoy myself as much as they do, nor eat as freely as they do, because I’m constantly aware of my aching teeth” he said.
He concluded, “I cannot blame anyone in this world other than my father since he is the one who encouraged me to chew Qat initially. Instead of preventing me from chewing, he taught me with strong persistence to chew Qat. Now, I have become a burden for both him and myself.
Abdullah is only one victim among many Yemeni children who chew Qat and experience negative side effects.
Yemeni doctors verify the increased number of Yemeni children chewing Qat, calling for rapid and fast solutions, and saying that chewing Qat among children, especially boys, has become a serious and extensive problem. This is due in part to the social situation and the widespread illiteracy among Yemeni parents, especially fathers. They also confirm that chewing Qat is increasing dramatically among children, specifically, those between the ages of 9-15.
The effects of Qat are dangerous to all people, particularly children because they are more likely to suffer from diseases related to Qat such as cancer in the oral-dental tissue and diabetes mellitus, among others. This is because children’s immune systems are weaker than adults.
Since Qat use is widespread and often persists throughout children’s lives, especially those between 9-17 years old, there have been no studies conducted on the toxicological aspect of habitual Qat usage among children.
“Qat chewing, especially among children, causes lesions to the support structures of the teeth, namely gingivitis, periodontal pocket formation, gingival recession, tooth mobility, and tooth mortality. Qat chewing, particularly among children, causes cracking and pain in the jaw, and leads to attrition and staining of the teeth and cervical decay particularly among crystallized sugar consumers as well,” according to Doctor Osama, Dentist at al-Noor Medical Center.
According to Doctor Osama, Qat chewing results in mouth dryness and inflammation of salivary glands. Qat chewing also causes obvious facial asymmetry, and for this reason, children are more likely to be exposed to problems.
“In the past 3 years of my work here, a lot of children are coming to me suffering from obvious symptoms such as gingival recession, attrition, staining of teeth and cervical caries, and inflammation of the gums. In most of these cases I usually discover later that children with these symptoms chew Qat regularly,” Osama asserted.
Despite the fact that Qat chewing is spreading rapidly among Yemeni children, there are no studies or statistics that clearly state the number of Yemeni children who are chewing.
“I chew Qat every day. My father gives me an adequate amount of money to go to the Qat souk and buy whatever I need. Every day I get YR 1000 due to the fact that my father has plenty of money and runs a store on Kholan Street,” 13-year-old Talal Mohammed al-Selwi expressed
Al-Selwi claimed, “I will not stop chewing Qat because it is the best thing in my life, irrespective of its dangers.”
Yemeni Doctors confirm that Qat affects children’s bodies and makes them more likely to suffer from different diseases such as loss of appetite and stunted growth.
“Chewers of Qat, both children and adults, often complain of the same symptoms due to the fact that Qat has identical affects regardless of age. Children however, are more likely to be exposed to risks because they have a weaker immune system than a strong adult,” Dr. Aida Ali Haidar al-Maktari, a paediatric specialist, said.
Al-Maktari confirmed that Qat chewers, especially children between 9-17 years old, often complain of symptoms suggestive of inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis), oesophagitis, and gastritis. These effects were believed to be caused mainly by the strongly astringent tannins in Qat.
Recent evidence has shown that Qat chewing, specifically among children, delays digestion of a semi-solid meal, probably a result of the action of cathinone in Qat. Prolonged digestion may contribute to an increased chance of heartburn and acid regurgitation, and to an increased risk of Barrett’s oesophagus, a pre-cancerous condition. Loss of appetite frequently follows a Qat session, and chewers seldom eat a further main meal the same day. This anorectic factor may be attributed to combined direct central and gastric effects of cathinone in fresh Qat leaves, which causes the consumer to suffer from severe appetite loss.
The liver was suspected by many authors to be particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of Qat, disturbance in liver function and architecture has been described in experiments conducted on animals both in the short and long-term when fed Catha leaves.
“Qat makes children suffer from stunted growth because children lose their appetite when they chew Qat. Moreover, losing appetite and vitamins leads to more weight loss, which makes the body unable to grow,” al-Maktari commented.
“The solution for this problem rest on the shoulders of parents and relatives, who have a responsibility to prevent their children from chewing Qat. The media should take its role to increase awareness among children and society about the dangers of chewing Qat,” she added.
“Taking children to Qat sessions is not permissible according to the theory that children quickly acquire this bad habit from their parents, relatives, and parent’s friends, starting to imitate them,” al-Maktari concluded.
“Children who are allowed to chew Qat are more likely to learn bad behaviors from their elders due to the fact that a child between 8-17 will imitate others, especially older men,” Ali Mohmmad Kauad, a student of Social Sciences expressed.
According to Kauad, based on our observations, the Qat chewing phenomenon spreads quickly among children as can be perceived by anyone strolling round the gardens or the city.
Poverty plays a very important role in increasing the number of Yemeni children who chew Qat due to the fact that most of the poor families allow to their children to go out, leading them to indulge in relationships with other people already chew Qat. Kauad concluded, “Qat affects children’s level of knowledge because when children gather together for the sake of chewing, they waste their time on a trivia which makes them forget about their studies. Supervising and advising against such practices are the most common ways to keep the children away from Qat.”
Despite the warning of Yemeni doctors and social experts about the perils of Qat consumption among children, the government has never taken any practical steps to enact a law preventing the selling of Qat to children, especially those between 8-17 years old.
August 18, 2009