Hope Dental Centre is not just any dental practice. It was established in Mwanza in 2004 to address the lack of dental provision here, and specifically to support the work of Bridge2Aid in providing training in emergency dentistry to health workers in rural areas of Tanzania. We provide a much-needed general dental service to the people of Mwanza, and play our part in extending that access throughout Tanzania.
That means that at the heart of everything we do, and every decision we take, is not just a commitment to improving oral healthcare generally, but to contributing to Bridge2Aid’s work. For the majority of the time, that means doing what we can to maximise our profitability in order to pass as much financial support as possible over to B2A. Sometimes however we can take a more direct approach to reaching people who otherwise would have no access to relief from dental pain.
We have started closing the practice for occasional sessions when we are able to examine and treat children who are living on the street or recently been found homes. We are doing this in partnership with agencies working in Mwanza with street children, such as Caretakers of the Environment, who brought some groups of children to see us on 20th November.
This particular campaign has been organised through the efforts of Prue Preston. Prue won the ‘Colgate Unsung Hero’ award a couple of years ago for her oral health work with children in Mwanza. Colgate gave a financial award and Prue has asked us to use that money to see and treat as many street children and orphans as we can. This is an ideal situation for us in that we can, without financial cost, reach so many children in need we wouldn’t normally get to see.
Our first street children session at the new Hope was rewarding and a lot of fun.
Some of the more memorable moments of the day included Dr Mo playing lego with three of the boys (a serious test of his hand-eye co-ordination), or groups of the children demanding photos, and then Jacqueline somewhat nervously handing over her phone so the kids could see their pictures. Some of our new patients were a little reluctant to head to the treatment rooms when called, but Rose would use her best receptionist -persuasion powers (and the bribe of a tooth brush) or Sophia would march them down the corridor ignoring all protests. One boy was determined not to join in, and we had all given up on him, until one of his older comrades cajoled him into the chair – “it’s not that bad”. It was a real pleasure to see the interaction between the children and the team; Juana surrounded by children eager to learn how to mix filling material, Dr Spilian walking a boy into the surgery with his arm around his shoulder, or Dr Yusuf just itching to help one particularly serious case.
Of course we weren’t just having fun; we were there to do some dentistry, too. It was surprising how good the dental condition was of a couple of the younger children (Dr Mo whispered that one boy was in a better condition than most of our regular patients) – possibly the result of not having the money to buy sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks. One in particular described how diligently he cleans his teeth each day with his finger, not having access to any other means of cleaning. But there were plenty with significant problems. The worst case we saw during this session was a young lady with a serious infection, resulting in an extraordinarily painful swollen side of her face. Not a quick fix – we’ll be seeing her again, along with several of the other children who need more extensive treatment.
There weren’t quite as many children there as we had hoped; despite a pre-arranged pick-up, many had run away from the transport arranged to bring them to us (how many of us deep down share that impulse?). We are hoping that word will get around that a visit to Hope Dental Centre relieves rather than causes pain, and we have another session arranged for a fortnight’s time. Our gratitude to Prue and to Colgate for contributing to this aspect of our work and making the daily lives of some of our local street children just a little bit better.