I first reached out to Dentaid after reading about a colleague’s experience on Instagram. After speaking with her and hearing about the great experiences she’d had, I knew volunteering overseas was something I needed to do.
Uganda is a beautiful country in east Africa where Dentaid supports a team of Ugandan dental professionals all year round. The volunteers work alongside the Ugandan dental teams, running outreach clinics in schools, churches, prisons, orphanages, schools and remote communities.
Whilst sweet fizzy drinks are readily available, little is understood about the dental damage heavy consumption causes. So, as well as treatments such as extractions, fillings, scale and polish and fluoride varnish application; oral health education lies at the heart of Dentaid’s work.
Offering free dental treatment to those less fortunate and seeing the appreciation on the patients’ faces, knowing we have got them out of pain, was definitely a highlight. It has been great to be a part of a charitable scheme that helps vulnerable people in need. The knowledge that our team was changing lives and improving oral health was highly rewarding.
There were inevitable challenges. Accessibility to running water and toilet facilities were an experience! We had to shower from buckets of cold water, but I was happy to adapt. One hotel had the occasional power cut but these didn’t last too long.
But these living challenges we faced, in retrospect, highlighted further the privileges we enjoy in the UK and heightened our empathy felt for the Ugandan communities.
The main oral health issues patients presented with were periodontal disease and large areas of decay resulting in an extraction. Treatment could be anything from extraction and restoration to simple scales, fluoride varnish application and oral hygiene education. Each patient who visited the clinic would receive a free toothbrush and toothpaste.
These diseases are often caused by several factors but the prominent factor is the little amount of dental education provided to the patients. Hopefully, going forward, these issues can be prevented with the education carried out on the trip.
Due to the lack of available dental facilities in the area, for many patients this was their first trip to see a dentist. The team had a target of a minimum of 100 patients a day, which we always reached.
In fact, on average we saw between 130-180 patients per day. Over two weeks, the final figure was 1,768 patients. Patients would travel for miles and sit in the sun waiting patiently for hours until they could be seen. Some patients would arrive before clinics opened and start queueing up – that was how popular they became. One patient had travelled three hours by foot from the other side of the mountain to be seen at one of our clinics in Mbale, which was admirable to me but also heart-breaking.
I don’t think the trip would have been the same without these people. Every single one of them in their own way made the trip very special for me and, because of that, I have some of the best memories. After every clinical session, we would have some downtime that gave us the opportunity to bond away from the working environment and get to know each other.
We also were given a few days off at the end of the trip, so we went on a river cruise on the River Nile, went on a hike to Sipi Falls and visited a coffee farm. I got to meet so many other professionals in the same field and exchange knowledge, tips and tricks, techniques and also learn from the Ugandan dental care professionals.
Dentaid has been very supportive throughout this experience, made the process mostly stress-free and the team will always answer any questions you may have. The team leader, Gail, who runs the Uganda trips, is very knowledgeable about the country and the areas we are visiting.
I truly believe it is character building in so many ways – professionally and personally. The trip pushed me out my comfort zone, it also developed me in a professional way.
Mitch Greenley Dental Nurse