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Volunteering in Malawi – The Warm Heart of Africa

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Volunteering in Malawi – The Warm Heart of Africa

Radhika Kotecha studied at the University of Manchester and graduated in 2013. She is currently working in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery department in Derby. Radhika has written this article to share her experience and inspire other young dentists to embark on a journey of a lifetime.

On 25th May I left my family and friends behind for two weeks embarking on my journey to Malawi, alongside a team of four dentists and two nurses with the charity Dentaid. We were all volunteers and self-funded.

On arrival we were given a very welcome by the local dental therapists. An itinerary was decided and over the course of two weeks we were due to visit seven schools, one prison and five health care centres. Malawi is home to 14 million people where the average life expectancy IMG_1888.JPGis 40 years old. Over the course of two weeks we treated 750 patients. Most of these patients have travelled far and if it wasn't for our camp would have gone years without treatment or would have to walk miles to the local dental clinic for treatment. Colgate supplied lots of freebies of toothpaste and toothbrush which we gave to each and every patient as well as lots of oral hygiene and tooth brushing instruction.

Each day we set off early in the morning to the rural areas of Malawi. 13 people squeezed into our yellow mini bus would travel to our destination over the humps and bumps. On arrival we would set up for our day work. This would involve a sterilisation area, clean zone, dirty zone and two gas cylinders with pressure cooker, a centralised instrument stock area and arrangement of the benches or chairs to create our own dental stations. Working alongside the local therapists we provided emergency care treatment of extractions and in some cases Atraumatic Restorative Treatment.

The local therapists are extremely well trained extracting almost 50-60 teeth daily in harsh warm conditions. The clinics in which they work have a plastic garden chair to substitute the usual luxury dental recliner. They rest the patients head up against the wall and use minimum equipment to get the tooth out. There is no suction, drill or dental nurse to aid this process, which, as you can imagine would be difficult. The operator is alone left to support the head, jaw and also extract the tooth. Confidence, particularly when extracting teeth, is essential as accidentally fractured root tips can't easily be retrieved surgically and the patient will have a lengthy wait and journey to be seen at the nearest hospital oral surgery department.


The language barrier is one of the biggest challenges to working in the Malawi. Taking a history, calming a patient mid-treatment, even asking a patient to open their mouth, all has to be translated into Chichewa via a third party. This makes non-verbal communication vitally important, it may sound clichéd but a smile is universal.
My trip to Malawi has been eye opening. Not only have I made lots of friends but more importantly have made a difference. The experience in itself has made me realise how lucky we are to be in a country where healthcare is so readily available. We were there to provide a much needed service.
I would urge every member of the dental team to give some time at some point in their career to make difference and change the way the world smiles.

Radhika Kotecha

Dentaid_FINAL_LOGO_RGB_300dpi.jpg"Dentaid is a charity dedicated to eradicating dental pain around the world. We are supporting dental professionals working in the world's poorest and most remote communities; enabling them to provide vital, pain-relieving dental care."

Education and treatment for today. Training and support for tomorrow.

Get involved at

Contact: Jacqueline James, Participation Manager, and quote TYD15 for more details.


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