Although her desire was to study computer science in the university, her father had a different idea. He wanted his daughter to study medicine. Having spent quite some time as a child visiting dental clinics, it is not unlikely that she got fascinated with that field of medicine and decided to study dentistry at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife where she bagged a degree in dental surgery.
The product of Queenâ€™s college, Lagos, she had her post graduate specialisation in restorative dentistry at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). A staff with the General Hospital broad street, Lagos, Mrs Lateefat Agbaje is currently the chairperson, Nigerian Dental Association, Lagos State.
Did you always think that this is what you would do and what was the fascination with the teeth for you as a child?
I didnâ€™t know I will eventually become a dentist even though I am a dental patient and I spent a lot of time as a child going to dental clinics in Lagos.
I think I visited quite a healthy number as a child and from there, I did have an insight into it. But along the line, when I decided to specialize after my basic degree, I found out that there were so many things that you can do with restorative dentistry. For example, you can make people really lovely just by fixing their teeth. You can change the appearance of someoneâ€™s face just by fixing their teeth. You can lighten the colour of the teeth, you can arrange the teeth, if a person has massive hole in the tooth you can fix it. The options were many and I liked that.
That is like styling a person?
Definitely. I like cosmetic dentistry and Iâ€™m beginning to do a lot of that especially these days that people are into make overs and things like that. A lot of people actually love if you let them know what they can do to improve their teeth or looks.
What are some of the challenges you face as you rise on your job?
Well, because we are working in a government institution, you canâ€™t have everything you want. And the structure on ground affects all aspects not just dentistry alone. There are so many materials and equipment which are particular to our specialization that we donâ€™t have. We need all these things to work and practice. That is the difference between doctors in Nigeria and doctors abroad. You hear Nigerian doctors travel abroad and they do so well. They are all over hospitals in UK and USA doing extremely well. We all studied together. The difference between us and them is that the facilities are there for them to practice with and it helps them gain confidence.
Nobody is born with the knowledge or know-how, we learn it. If only the facility can be improved upon on a regular basis and we have access to courses, doctors will get better and do well. So basically, we need education and more exposure to materials and technique because there is increased development in the sector and every year something new comes up.
What is it like leading other professionals?
I can tell you straight away that itâ€™s not easy. I think itâ€™s a Nigerian thing that when there is no money in something, people donâ€™t show much interest. But we keep trying to have fora where we can interact and even socialise. The issue is that we donâ€™t have the kind of money we need to execute programmes.
In the general hospitals, we want to be part of antenatal clinics because there are so many things that surround teething for example. In the past, there have been issues of some drugs causing problems for children.
As dentists we know that you donâ€™t need any especial drug because your child is teething. Itâ€™s more than likely that around the time when the child is teething, the child is also learning to crawl and so is prone to all kinds of infections. So, all these things cause problems for the child. If you go to the shelf of the average pharmacy, there so many teething agents that we donâ€™t know what they are about.
We also have situations where a baby is born with a tooth or two teeth in the mouth. All these things are taboos in this environment but its no big deal. It happens all the time. But around here they attribute it to all kinds of taboos. So these are messages we need to pass on to our women.
How would you say women have fared in this clime?
I think women are improving and people are becoming more aware that women can do things, they are going places. We have so many women now that we can point to in Nigeria today who are doing so well in their fields. And there are many others that we donâ€™t know who are also doing excellently well. But there are still areas where women are stereotyped. But once they are given the chance to be educated, the sky is the limit for them.