A life-changing experience

08 November, 2013 / infocus

In June, I headed off on a two-week expedition, along with dental nurses Gemma O’Malley and Hayley Robertson, to the Dodoma region of Tanzania with charity Bridge2aid, which specialises in helping those with no access to dental care of any description.

Since 2002, Bridge2aid (B2A) – the UK’s fastest-growing dental charity working in developing nations – has trained over 220 local health workers in Tanzania in emergency dentistry, with their goal of more than 50 people a year learning essential dental skills having now been achieved.

This training has not only directly treated tens of thousands of people, but has also extended emergency dentistry services to those living in rural areas. An estimated 2.2 million people now live within reach of someone who can help to alleviate their pain.

More than 70 per cent of the world’s population have no access to the simplest form of dental pain relief. B2A was founded to address this problem and is the UK’s fastest-growing UK dental charity working in developing nations

The charity’s Dental Volunteer Programme (DVP) allows qualified dental professionals to pass their skills on to clinical officers to safely extract teeth. The programme began in 2004 and works with the Tanzanian government. B2A has also established a long-term development programme with the disabled and people affected by leprosy at Bukumbi Care Centre.

Before we set off, we raised more than £4,683 by staging events throughout Clackmannanshire. This helped to finance flights, accommodation and living costs, with any additional proceeds being donated to further the charity’s work in the third world country.

We had planned the trip for more than a year and hosted fund-raising events in the local area, including a race night and an 80s disco. We also received generous donations from patients and workplaces and the businesses in the local community donated raffle prizes.

As soon as we arrived, we began working with dentists to deliver emergency dental procedures while also training local health workers, leaving a lasting legacy of our efforts there.

Over 13 days, our team – consisting of six dentists and four dental nurses – worked in remote rural clinics, developing the skills of clinical officers and delivering basic dental services to the community. We worked in two medical centres which were extremely basic with no electricity or running water, and a basic wooden chair in place of a dental chair.

We assisted the team by making sure the ’clinics’ ran smoothly, including preparation of the anaesthesia, instruments and sterilisation – which involved the use a pressure cooker. We also assisted by holding heads during extractions and sometimes holding babies, as well as training the clinical officers in sterilisation techniques and oral health education.

Bridge2aid is a terrific charity as it not only treats dental pain but also teaches others the skills to deliver dental treatment to those who really need it after we are gone. It may be hard to imagine living with no access to a dentist but, for almost two-thirds of the world’s population, that is a reality.

It is not uncommon for people to have to live with unbearable toothache for many years, which, as dental workers, we find very disturbing.

The trip was an incredible life-changing experience. It gave us all a great sense of achievement.

It not only helps people out of pain, but educates clinical officers who will be able to make a difference in their community after we have gone. The charity really does make a difference. We would recommend it to anyone remotely interested, it is such a well-run organisation and the sense of teamwork is fantastic.

The patients we treated are so grateful and appreciative that you are there to help and never complain after sometimes having toothache for years and walking for days to get to the makeshift clinics. One 17-year-old walked 55 miles himself to get his tooth out and was so grateful just to be seen.


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