Sometimes it’s important to shake things up a bit and do something that takes you out of your comfort zone.
I was feeling a little uninspired last year until I caught up with a friend of mine, Pat Popat, who is a dental therapist. He travels to Uganda annually, taking much needed dental aid to areas with little or no access to dental care. He talked to me about his upcoming trip and inspired me to get involved.
So, in February this year I took my skills and 46 kilos worth of dental supplies to rural Uganda and found it a rewarding and unforgettable experience.
The dental missions are run by Dentaid, a charity that works to improve oral health around the world. It sends volunteer dental professionals and reconditioned dental equipment and supplies to support the work of dentists in poor and remote communities.
Treating and educating
We worked wherever we could – orphanages, schools, churches, classrooms – and people would come from far and wide to see us. The need was great in the rural areas we travelled to, which don’t have a local dentist and therefore rely on clinics and pop-ups like ours. We triaged the patients first and prioritised those in pain and in need of fast treatment. We would then help them with oral hygiene, with a mixture of treatment and education. Our aim was to treat between 100 and 150 people a day.
We often worked with Ugandan dentists who would come and spend a day with us. It was a good opportunity to pass on our knowledge and expertise in order to help improve their practice, as some of their knowledge and methods are less advanced. Dental education on the latest clinical evidence to prevent such practices is a vital part of Dentaid’s work.
Bringing much-needed dental supplies
Our luggage allowance was 46 kilos each and we each used all of it bar a few kilos for personal hand luggage to take donated dental supplies. We worked out beforehand what we needed and then asked for donations and used any money raised to buy what was outstanding – local anaesthetic, gloves, masks, tray liners, cotton wool rolls, gauze, forceps and as much fluoride as we could carry.
The fluoride was kindly donated by Dentsply Sirona, who gave us a supply of NuPro White (5% sodium) Varnish single-use doses, which we applied to the teeth of all the children we saw. Fluoride application is proven to reduce the risk of tooth decay and is a quick and easy way to protect as many mouths as possible – which is what we were trying to do in Uganda.
A challenging and worthwhile experience
It was really interesting to work in a completely different environment. It meant adapting and working in ways I was not used to, such as swapping a modern clinic for a ‘pop-up’ chair and a head-torch. At the end of day, all of that didn’t matter as we were able to simply extend our knowledge, which was the most important part.
In the two weeks spent in Uganda, we saw 2,185 patients and performed, among other things, 741 extractions, 261 fillings and 1,384 varnish applications! We also gave out 693 toothbrushes and 965 tubes of toothpaste.
Sometimes when you donate money to charity you don’t really see the good it does. To be able to go to the front line and be on the ground delivering the treatment first-hand was an amazing experience. My team is already planning our 2019 trip!”
To find out more about or donate to Dentaid, visit www.dentaid.org.