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Dental health promotion in Malindi, Kenya

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Dental health promotion in Malindi, Kenya

I have always been told that helping those who need help is one of the important messages in life.

On that basis I decided to take a month break from work to volunteer with Gracepatt Ecotours Kenya, coordinated by Patrick and Grace Karimi, husband and wife. I contacted Patrick regarding the dental project who was extremely helpful in answering all my concerns regarding the outreach visit to Kenya, Africa. After hearing about the lack of dental awareness and lack of dentists in Malindi, I decided that I wanted to promote dental health in this particularly deprived area. I gathered dental supplies from companies including Wright Cottrell, Colgate, Oral B, Sensodyne, Alexandra and G.E Energy for my one month visit. I was taken aback by the generosity from all the companies. Supplies including gloves, masks, visors, filling material, disinfectant wipes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, scrubs as well as toys and stickers for children were all donated.

When I arrived I was warmly greeted by Patrick who took me to the transit house where I stayed for the night. The following day he picked me up and took me to the Sheldrick elephant orphanage and a giraffe centre as a welcoming to Africa. Then I was sent to Malindi in the bus where I met George Mumba, the hospital co-ordinator who took me to my host family where I would be staying for the duration of the visit. The host family most definitely added to my challenging experience. I was able to try traditional African food, learn basic Swahili as well as get to know the African culture better. George also took me to the hospital and introduced me to the dental clinic and then the adventure began…

Within Malindi District Dental Department, I was given the opportunity to lead the team consisting of a 4th year dental student, a dental nurse and myself.  As a government based hospital, the patients that visited were worse for wear financially as well as dentally, the majority coming from nearby villages. I was surprised at the large number of patients who presented medically with HIV. The prime treatment carried out was extractions and sometimes multiple in the same patient. There were several patients with facial trauma seen in other departments presenting for dental review, treatment required for prisoners in addition to age assessments for patients involved in court cases. Unfortunately, facilities in the clinic were limited. There was a lack of instruments, gloves, and masks as well as the dental chair being broken and the drill being inoperable. The heat did not help working in this environment. However, this was the best it was going to get in this hospital due to economical restraints by the government. Each morning, outside the clinic there were at least ten patients waiting to be seen mostly complaining of toothache that had kept them up all night. Approximately half the patients did not brush their teeth let alone own a toothbrush. The dental student, Steve, was my interpreter with every patient as there was a lack of English speaking. I had learnt the basics in Swahili including dental words such as open wide, extractions, pain, numb, filling, and bite together. Mornings were like a conveyor belt of patients but this was rewarding knowing patients were leaving with the source of the pain removed.malindi02
The afternoons in the clinic were quieter therefore I had arranged to promote dental health in the community and by visiting schools with Steve. I visited three schools: Sir Ali Bin Salim, Malindi HGM and Malindi Central Primary school. We educated classes consisting of 70 pupils, 150 pupils and a whole school of 1000 pupils aged ten years or older. With the aid of the blackboard, demonstration models and posters the topics covered were tooth structure, diet, brushing, fluoride, caries, periodontal disease and hand hygiene both covered in English and then repeated in Swahili. We quizzed the pupils at the end and gave prizes and samples to those answering correctly. Several of the pupils then visited Malindi District Hospital to get their teeth checked which was a positive response. Whilst visiting the schools, community health workers were present and taking notes in order to continue delivering dental health education to further schools. I am happy to report that two more schools have been visited by these dental health promoters in Malindi since I have returned to the UK.

In my opinion, the whole experience has taken me out of my comfort zone of working in a fully equipped dental practice with patients who can understand English. I feel that coming with Gracepatt Ecotours Kenya has opened my eyes to government run dentistry in Kenya and I would urge more volunteers to go through the organisation to treat patients who are in great need of treatment as well as help educate school children in a focus of prevention. I have made some cracking new friends for life! The experience will definitely enhance clinical skills whether you are a student or dentist as well as make you aware of the other face of dentistry.

Hari Lal BDS (Glasgow 2010)

Thanks to: Patrick and Grace Karimi
George Mumba

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