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Dental volunteering in Northern Uganda

Hi, I’m Nia, many of you know me as the dental receptionist/nurse at Your Smile Clinic. I'm also a third-year dental hygiene and therapy student at the University of Manchester. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to visit Northern Uganda for three weeks with the university to provide free dental services to the community of Gulu.

My trip began with an introduction to our host family who welcomed us with open arms and a typical Ugandan dinner – Rolex with beans and rice!

With our host family

I travelled via ‘Boda’ (the main form of transport in Gulu) to the public regional hospital of Gulu, in which conditions were vastly different to those in the UK. There were lines of patients queuing for dental health care; some people had been queuing since 4am!

After an introduction to the hospital, I started assisting in administering anaesthesia. Their methods were very different to ours, but I adapted quickly. They worked via a triaging system and had stations for each of the patients to visit e.g. diagnosis stage, anaesthetic stage, treatment stage, and recovery phase; this was quite chaotic as there were so many different people in the treatment room at once. I helped with diagnoses; sadly many of their treatment plans consisted of only extractions, as that is the only free dental treatment available to them.

Dental chair in the public dental hospital

I also visited the private hospital where I met a friendly Ugandan dentist and his team of colleagues, who were all very welcoming. Here, I carried out multiple restorations and had to vastly improvise – I used a head torch as my dental light and used my hand as a light cure shield. There was no suction, so we had to stop every so often to let the patient spit into the sink, however despite such challenges, I managed to achieved successful restorations!

Examining patients

Whilst travelling to the hospital one day, I came across a young boy on the street. Whilst speaking to him, I noticed the extensive amount of decay in his mouth. I advised his parents to take him to the hospital for treatment. Education to prevent these dental problems is desperately needed. The need for dental care in Uganda is so vast, I want to increase public awareness of this topic by hopefully publishing an audit this autumn.

I went on multiple outreaches during our trip, on these outreaches, I provided oral health/nutritional education and basic oral health equipment such as toothbrushes. We had a dental translator who accompanied us, he translated our education into ‘acholi’ (the local language). We had hundreds of people gathers for the talks. The talks also included education regarding smoking, diabetes and chewing betel nut/sugar cane and the effects this has on oral health. My aim is to make dental disease in Uganda preventable, rather than a treatable condition. I feel education is the best way to do this and I feel our visits are the starting point to this goal.

On another outreach, we visited local schools in which we saw over 1000 children. We gained permission from the head teachers and provided education to the whole school. I made posters with the children so they would remember basic oral health instructions and associate the dentist with a fun and enjoyable time, rather than a scary one. The dental team and I collected data whilst at the schools, where we found shocking statistics – 60% of the children were currently in dental pain and 90% had never visited the dentist. I hope my visits can change these statistics and get the individuals of Gulu out of dental pain and on the road to a preventable dental disease future!

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Uganda, it has enhanced my drive to help people, especially underprivileged communities. I feel a great sense of gratification that I have made a difference to peoples lives and hopefully their dental health.

This July, I am returning to Uganda to co-lead the dental team which we have expanded to seven members! Now that my skills have progressed, this year I will hopefully be doing additional procedures such as extractions and more complex restorations. The team will be doing fluoride varnish on outreaches which is a simple varnish that helps prevent tooth decay. We have also set up a ‘dental education programme’ for the dental officers in Uganda, to teach them some of our tricks in the UK such as pain free anaesthesia! We hope this improves the patients visits to the dentists and makes them more pleasurable.

Any donations to my trip would be highly appreciated and would go a long way - (link provided below). Additionally, any dental donations ranging from equipment, toothpastes or even composite capsules would be a great help, we will use these whilst in country and leave them for the Ugandan dentists to use in the public hospitals.

Please read more on the following link and if possible, sponsor me! -

For any other information, please contact

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