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Suffering with a toothache for months is a reality in Tanzania

Most people would describe a toothache as one of the worst kinds of pain one can have. Nevertheless, in the “First World” we know that there is an easy way out of it by taking painkillers, accessing a dentist at the distance of a phone call. The idea of a toothache lasting months or even years without being attended is hard to imagine in Goring and Streatley, but easy to empathise with.

Bridge2Aid TanzaniaIn developing countries, a large part of the population has no access to basic dental care or pain relief. People can go for months, even years with debilitating dental pain, which may prevent them from attending school or working, losing income, having the potential to impact whole families.

In October 2016, I participated in a voluntary trip with a charity called Bridge2Aid. I travelled to Tanzania on a dental volunteering program in what came to be an exciting and fulfilling experience.

Bridge2Aid works together with the Tanzanian Government to provide emergency dental treatment to rural areas in Tanzania. They do it in a way that really motivated me to participate in this project: a sustainable one; they train local health care workers, enabling them to provide emergency dental care to their patients, in the form of extracting hopeless teeth. Bridge to Aid provides the training they need, support, materials and mentoring even after they have been trained, ensuring that they are safe and effective.

Our Bridge2Aid Team

Bridge2Aid TeamWe were a team of seven Dentists and four Dental nurses, on a mission to train six Health Care Workers. The Healthcare Workers came from different isolated rural areas and worked daily providing multiple treatments to their patients, like vaccinations, suturing lesions, midwifery. So, they were very competent in their fields and extracting teeth is a skills addition to their repertoire.

During the 2-week program, we followed a well-organised schedule. Bridge2Aid have been doing this for over a decade and it shows – they know what they are doing. Every day we would go out fully aware of the learning objectives for the day, we all had standardised resources and methods, so that the healthcare workers would finish their training with the required standard of skills. They got theory and practical training and corresponding exams.

We had to follow the program, but at the same time we were always remembered of how important our personal input was, as we are all different and so are our experiences and backgrounds. The local practitioners were rotated between all of us, and it was really amazing to testify the quick progress that these eager to learn professionals would have.

Relieving toothache

Toothache We saw an average of 150+ patients a day, and at the end, we would share our stories with each other. I’d like to share a couple with you.

The patient on crutches had been bitten by a hyena and it took him 2 days to walk into our clinic. Nevertheless, it was worth it, he had suffered from a toothache for over 2 years before he saw us that morning. It’s hard to imagine suffering for so long.

Farmer toothacheThis farmer (on the right) also had a traumatic story: he had saved up money to see a “local healer” to try and get his treatment done. The treatment caused him more pain, the toothache remained and his savings went, so he was very relieved and emotional about finally having safe dental treatment to relief his pain.

The local practitioners that successfully achieved their qualification were then able to offer their patients pain relief, dental extractions, referrals of complicated cases and even oral cancer recognition. They got kitted with dental materials and sterilising equipment, and also follow up meetings and mentoring. Through this method, Bridge2Aid have enabled 4.5 million people to get access to basic dental care.

This experience turned out to be an adventure from the start. We all got to see and experience and understand the culture, taste different foods, challenge ourselves with the toilets, and finally we got to meet lovely like-minded colleagues with who in a few days a special bond was created. We all came back so appreciative for the all we have available to us and felt spoiled by doing treatment with an actual dental chair and lights!

This has been a life-changing experience of giving a little, but receiving much more, one that I wish to repeat in the very near future. If you’d like to donate to Bridge2Aid or find out more please visit their website.

Dr Ana Santos
Dental Surgeon
The Boathouse Dental Surgery

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