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Bridge2Aid: how dental volunteering is offering hope to those in pain

Post date: 05/02/2020 | Time to read article: 5 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 05/02/2020

Dental Protection is proud to support the work of Bridge2Aid, a charitable organisation doing fantastic work to improve access to emergency dental care by training healthcare workers in developing countries. Find out more about the organisation’s work in this article

 

Bridge2Aid differs from the other dental volunteer opportunities: it has a unique approach that focuses on training rather than treatment and, in doing so, creates a sustainable solution. Because of this Dental Protection was very pleased to recently indemnify several of Bridge2Aid’s dental volunteers for their 2020 training programmes.

Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said Bridge2Aid’s focus on sharing experience to improve clinical standards drew notable parallels with the ethos of Dental Protection. “At Dental Protection we believe strongly that risk management and education are amongst the key pillars for providing safe care to patients. With its focus on training, Bridge2Aid has similar aims.

“We also know our members do great work throughout their daily practice, and Dental Protection is here to support them in providing quality dental care to patients. This certainly continues to be the case when taking up charitable work. We are proud to be able to support the excellent work of Bridge2Aid by providing the required indemnity.”

Bridge2Aid boosts local standards of dentistry

The idea is to train local clinical officers in emergency dental care. They already have basic medical skills and are effectively the GP doctors for their local community. They deliver the babies, sew up the wounds and dispense the medications. By training these clinical officers in emergency dental care, the work can continue long after the volunteers leave and can provide aid to thousands more people than the volunteers could ever hope to help with their hands alone.

Bridge2Aid runs seven training programmes a year in Tanzania, East Africa. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. They have a population of 61 million and there are only 111 dentists. The gap between need and the ability to service that need is hard to fathom. Outside the cities there is simply no access to dental care. This year Bridge2Aid is also running their first pilot programme in Malawi.

Bridge2Aid has been operating for 15 years and is growing a newer sister organisation, Bridge2Aid Australia. In August last year, a team of Australian volunteers flew into the Tanzanian capital of Dar Es Salaam. The clinical and assistant clinical leads were Dr Graham Stokes and Dr Kiaran Weil from the United Kingdom. They have been involved with Bridge2Aid since the beginning. In addition to being a general practitioner in the UK, Graham Stokes also sits on the council of MPS and the board of Dental Protection.

In Dar Es Salaam the Bridge2Aid volunteers also met the team from Education and Health for All (Eh4all). A large part of the exceptional volunteer experience was due to this team. They are Tanzanians and as such understand their country in a way a visitor cannot. They managed all the details of the programme, with safety and comfort always paramount. They provided transport and organised accommodation and food. They spread the word of the trip beforehand and on the first day there was already a queue of people waiting.

The team travelled to the rural area of Lindi in the south eastern corner of Tanzania. In this region there was only one dentist, the district dental officer Dr Rwanda, with whom the team worked closely. Over the course of nine days they treated 750 patients, but more importantly they successfully trained six clinical officers. They each care for their community of around 10,000 people, so collectively there are 60,000 people who now have access to emergency dental care.

In addition to providing training in emergency dental care – and potentially more important – the team was now also teaching prevention of dental disease. The people they saw didn’t understand the consequences of sugary foods and the importance of cleaning their teeth. The team was also able to speak with several school groups. To pass the prevention programme, the clinical officers needed to demonstrate proficiency both in treating patients and teaching prevention.

The days were long but rewarding. Each morning the team would rise with the sun and after breakfast travel about an hour to the clinic where they would work that day. The clinic was essentially an open space where the team was able to set up tables and instruments. Despite the challenges of an environment without electricity or running water, they were able to treat patients in a sterile and safe manner. As they were primarily treating patients with advanced caries and infection, the management after careful diagnosis was usually extraction of a problem tooth under local anaesthesia.

Some patients had suffered dental pain for years

One of the most significant challenges of the experience was managing the emotion involved. Most of the people the team examined were suffering with dental pain. It was usually measured in years rather than days or months. For some that pain had been a constant source of suffering for more than ten years and, until the team arrived, they had no hope of relief.

Each person they met had a story of how significantly a simple dental infection had impacted on their life. One sadly common story was shared by a young man named Mwamedi. After years of pain he was desperate and, not aware of the team’s arrival, chose to seek out the help of a witch doctor. It is hard to imagine, but without anaesthesia the witch doctor attempted to remove the painful tooth. Mwamedi presented three days later as the problem was worse rather than better. The untrained person had increased Mwamedi’s suffering and to relieve his pain the team not only had to repair the botched extraction but remove extra healthy teeth that had been unnecessarily damaged.

For the small price of two weeks of personal time, the team returned home knowing that there will be fewer stories like Mwamedi’s – and they have added to a legacy that empowers people much less fortunate. The next Australian trip is already being planned, along with another six trips to Tanzania, manned by volunteers from the UK. Following lengthy discussions with the Malawian Ministry of Health, for the first time, Bridge2Aid is also sending a training team to Malawi in June.

Graham Stokes said: “I am delighted that Dental Protection have been able to offer this support to Bridge2Aid. I have been involved with Bridge2Aid as one of their clinical site leads for 15 years. I am so proud to be involved with a charity that delivers education, training and support to frontline medical providers in rural East Africa, providing much needed support for some of the poorest people in the world. The clinical officers that Bridge2Aid trains to such a high standard are able to provide safe effective emergency dental care quickly when their patients need it most.

“I am also so proud to be a director of Medical Protection and Dental Protection and to help our organisation provide our members with world class, timely, high quality support when they most need it – so they can continue to provide their patients with the care they need. These associations with both Bridge2Aid and Dental Protection allow me to help my professional friends and colleagues continue to demonstrate the very best of our profession – caring for patients and training healthcare professionals where and when it is needed most.”

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