After 40 years as a dentist, you do wonder what an ideal way would be to mark the end of your career. In my case, having previously been part of the 2019 Dentaid trip to Uganda, I couldn’t think of a better way than to volunteer once more for a trip to a country I love.
The other volunteers and I arrived in Uganda in September 2022 after uneventful flights from the UK, already excited and slightly apprehensive but wanting to get on with the job in hand. Under the knowledgeable guidance of our team leader Gail, we began sort out the selection of supplies we had brought, get used to the sights and sounds of Uganda, and begin to gel as a team. Over the next two weeks, we nine UK dental professionals, accompanied by six Ugandan dentists, held ten clinics and saw 1354 patients.
The clinics were held in an orphanage, a community hall standing on the shores of Lake Victoria, several churches in rural communities, a health centre at the top of a very high mountain, and in two different prisons. It would be very difficult to get such a variety of locations in the UK.
As you can imagine, many miles were travelled – we drove from the centre of Uganda down to the south-west corner of the country. For one of the clinics we were right at the Ugandan border with Rwanda. The countryside was peaceful and quiet, apart from the vocal wildlife. Rural Uganda is stunning and picturesque. In many cases our roads to the clinics were red muran, un-tarmaced, extremely bumpy, and dusty as they wound their way round high hillsides.
Everywhere we worked, we met very friendly locals who were extremely grateful for our services. Many of them had walked huge distances to reach us. All ages were treated, from tiny tots to 90-year-olds. We also were hosted by local families who gave us feasts of local food.
Treatments at all the clinics were principally extractions; fillings, fluoride applications and scalings made up the rest. Every patient, whether they needed treatment or not, received oral hygiene instructions, and were given toothbrushes and toothpaste to take away. The trip was not all clinics and patients. We had a fabulous weekend safari for some very necessary R&R, and it was a complete animal fest.
Lions, leopards, loads of elephants, buffaloes, and warthogs are all there in the wild. There was even the odd lizard visitor to our accommodation. The final three clinics were held in two separate male prisons in the centre of a large town called Mbarara. It was the first prison experience for most of us and a complete eye-opener. All the inmates were dressed in yellow uniforms and so many required dental treatment.
Working in open-sided tents in the central prison compound was hard work but very rewarding. After the second clinic at the main prison we had the privilege of being entertained by the prisoners’ cultural dance and drumming group.
Their joy at being able to perform for us to help relieve their prison life was obvious, and I certainly felt the emotion of that day by the time we returned to our hotel. The final clinic was also a prison setting but this time we worked on the open veranda of the prison health centre rather than in the compound.
I was given the honour of the last patient for the trip which was the extraction a lower premolar, and my final patient before retirement. Thank you, Dentaid, Gail, the Ugandan dentists, and my fellow volunteers for such a finish to my four decades as a dentist. At whatever stage of your dental career you are, the experience of being a dental volunteer with Dentaid will add lifetime memories and is an opportunity not to miss.
Written by Liddy Laird – Volunteer Dentist