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Neil Greenway Uganda

As you can well imagine, Uganda is different on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin to relate. But however chaotic, makeshift and dusty it is – it works. The people’s smiles beam from ear to ear despite their hardships and challenges. We attended to nearly 1400 people over the two weeks. This obviously is a drop in the ocean for a population of 46+ million, but we did make a difference to those individuals that we were able to see and the oral health education that was also was given, will surely be relayed on to extended family and beyond.

The team from the UK comprised three dentists (including me), six dental nurses and three therapists, plus our team-leader Gail. The therapists are dental care professionals that carry out restorations in adult and deciduous teeth and are also proficient in extractions of deciduous teeth. Joining us throughout the trip were Ugandan trained dental officers. We had up to four with us at any one time, who along with other translators, helped enormously as we shared skills and experience. Though Uganda does train a small number of BDS qualified dentists, these often remain around the cities or sadly leave for countries such as South Africa. Therefore, a greater number of dental officers can be trained in just three years and are able to carry out hygiene, extractions and fillings which is 99% of the population’s need.

Our trip took us right down to the Rwanda border and included clinics at an orphanage a juvenile correctional facility, five rural clinics and two days in Mbarara Main Prison.

The prison days were my preferred and most illuminating days. For all the manifest overcrowding and other challenges they face, the amount of decay in the inmates was unexpectedly modest. I actually carried out more filings than extractions on those two days. On reflection such a finding should not have been a surprise, given that the inmates have the same meals each day which is almost completely lacking in sugar. Many inmates have been there for a considerable number of years. Joseph, one of the Dental officers has been instrumental in organising a Dentaid team to visit at least annually for some years now and so the fruits of that work are showing results.

One of the dental officers triaged the patients. If they only needed fluoride varnish, they went to one workstation. If they needed treatment, they waited to be seen on one of the five or six chairs we had operating. If we agreed with the work that had been suggested, we carried it out or amended accordingly. We naturally had a nurse and often had to have a translator on hand. Once we had carried out the treatment, for instance an extraction, we sent them straight on to another workstation, where nurse members of the team monitored the post operative bleeding and gave the necessary oral health and postoperative instructions, freeing the dentists/dental officers to carry straight on with the next patient. In this way, we maximised the clinical time, seeing up 200 people on some days.

The whole trip was a unique experience. The overwhelming reflection we all came away with was of appreciation for what we have in the western world, and how much more grateful everyone will be now we are home.

I cannot praise Dentaid The Dental Charity enough for the effective use of our time and resources over the 2 weeks.