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Leave your mark on the World

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Leave your mark on the World

Hannah Darby studied at the University of Sheffield and graduated in 2014. She is currently half way through her first year of foundation training in London on the South East scheme. Hannah has written this article to share her experience and inspire other young dentists to embark on a journey of a lifetime.

Arusha, Eastern Africa, the home to 1,288,088 people, Mt, Kilimanjaro and the Worlds greatest safari park was where I took my dental elective. This article outlines the journey my friends and I went on and five reasons why other young dentists should follow our footsteps and create memories to hold with you for the rest of your life.

It was a hot, dry day in Eastern Africa, roads were busied with dala dalas, salesmen were bartering with each other for the lowest prices of goods, young males would be gathering to show off their break dancing skills and mothers were admiringly seen carrying their weekly shopping in banana baskets on their heads. A group of medical volunteers and I jumped into the nearest dala dala and headed off for our standard day of working in one of Tanzanias busiest hospitals, Mt Meru Regional Hospital.

Arusha, Tanzania, is where we took our dental elective thanks to 'Work the World.' Work the World have been arranging elective programmes since 2005. They provide accommodation, food, safety, lessons in the local language and fantastic day/weekend trips meaning that you can tailor your experience to gain what you want out of your trip. As well as all of these benefits you are able to stay in a house full of other healthcare volunteers from all different areas of the world.

Meet new people

The World Health Organisation has suggested that the dentist to population ratio should be a minimum of 1 dentist to 7,500 patients. However, in Tanzania the ratio is 1 dentist to 120,000 patients meaning the dentists see large amounts of patients and several members of the population are not seen. In Tanzania, not only are caries rates high but there is also a large amount of fluorosis, perio and trauma, meaning dentists are in high demand.

Clinical experience

The Dental wing of Mt. Meru hospital was run down to say the least with limited equipment, materials and staff. The patients queued outside patiently, men holding their jaws in agony, women with facial swellings nurturing their babies and sick children waiting silently for treatment. The dentist in charge was named Beatus, he was a lovely man, very welcoming, professional and caring. Beatus had trained for five years in Dar Es Sallaam and his daily work consisted of several extractions, root fillings or surgical procedures, all of which we were there to help with. We were handed aprons, masks, glasses and gloves and told to take a chair and see the emergency patients one by one. The clinical experience was phenomenal, I would never have thought so many extractions could have been done in one day, both simple and difficult. My confidence rose continuously and I began to feel excited about extractions rather than worry like I had done at dental school. Men, women and children all came with different problems for us to deal with one by one (with the occasional assistance from Beatus of course - I was only a student).

Experience a different culture

Following our time in Arusha we travelled to the Masaii Village of Engaruka. This unique opportunity to spend a week within the heart of a tribe, living with a local family and sharing their traditions and ways of life was one like no other. Here, as similar to the other villages, there was just one doctor and unfortunately no dentist/dental facilities, resulting in any dental treatment having to be carried out in Arusha - a six hour coach ride away. Here we spent our days diagnosing dental problems, giving oral hygiene information and recommending treatment options and spent our evenings drinking Konyagi (the local spirit) with the Warriors and making bracelets and dancing with the Mamas. It seems so surreal to think about it as the way this community live their lives and the beliefs and traditions they hold could not be more different from here in the UK.hd_group_2.jpg

Make a difference

The highlight of the whole trip (apart from the safari experience - a must for the to-do-list) was the visit to the local school within the Masaii village. The children there, as well as the rest of the tribe, had never received oral health education, with some children stating that they had only ever cleaned their teeth with leaves. This had resulted in a caries/perio endemic and the lack of dentists and knowledge meant that this could not be prevented or treated. We took along the doctor to translate into Swahili and gave thorough oral hygiene information to the children. Toothbrushes and toothpaste were distributed and after giving a demonstration on the bass technique for brushing, the children were led outside where they all practiced to perfection. The children were so pleased with their new brushes and newfound knowledge that they can hopefully pass on to their families and friends so that the whole community can benefit. The feeling of humbleness and reward was so overwhelming.elephants.jpg

See the world

I would urge anyone to take the opportunity whenever possible to travel to Africa and volunteer, even if just for a short period of time. If, as a student, you get the chance to go on an elective I would always recommend this part of the world, not only is it beautiful with some outstanding scenery and natural wildlife but I have never and will never meet a more welcoming, happy and grateful community. The experiences mentioned were a select few from a long list, other highlights included trips to local orphanages, a weekend on the paradise island of Zanzibar and a jeep ride around the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater spotting the 'big five' and several other of the worlds animals in their natural habitats.

Hannah Darby


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