Well-known South Australian oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Paul Duke, has taken part in the Bridge2Aid emergency dental program in remote Tanzania. There he joined a team of UK dental professionals who helped train seven Tanzanian clinical medical officers to provide safe emergency dental treatment to over 900 patients in just nine days. The seven trainees initially acted as interpreters and closely observed the dental surgery.
Following lectures on dental anatomy, complications of surgery and dental health, the trainees gradually took over as clinical providers. At the end of the two weeks, they were assessed by written and practical exams. Six of the seven were thought to be capable of independent practice to provide emergency dental care in their communities.
The Bridge2Aid program was launched in Australia late last year with the backing of foundation Platinum sponsor, A-dec, to help provide training and emergency dental treatment to those in remote parts of Africa with no access to dental treatment.
Dr Duke was the first Australian volunteer to participate in the program and said the aid project was very satisfying. "We helped almost 1000 people in a short space of time and have left something behind by training six new clinicians who will be able to provide ongoing treatment of those in dire need."
The patients not only had their pain relieved, but also received oral health instruction and a toothbrush.
Conditions in the remote communities were very basic, often with no electricity. Infection control is maintained by boiling hand instruments over a gas or kerosene stove in pressure cookers.
The group of seven international dentists and five volunteer dental nurses conducted hundreds of emergency extractions with their trainees during the nine days. In addition, Dr Duke performed an excision and biopsy of a suspicious oral lesion.
One of the patients had been in pain for five years and others for over 12 months. Some presented with externally draining abscesses after severe tooth infections spread to the jawbone and facial tissue. These conditions are not only painful and debilitating, but could also be fatal as a result of tongue swelling and subsequent airway problems, or septicaemia, if left untreated.
Dr Duke praised the organisation of Bridge2Aid who arranged transport within Africa and comfortable accommodation west of Lake Victoria in the Geita region of Tanzania.
"Bridge2Aid were fantastic," he said. "They handled all the logistics and the patients were all assembled before you got there. All I had to do was provide my dental expertise. As a result of support from the dental industry, they were able to fully utilise local staff who made sure things ran smoothly.
"After providing the training, Bridge2Aid also leave behind instrument packs for the trainees comprising Couplands elevators, forceps and pressure cookers for instrument sterilisation."
Dr Duke encouraged other Australian volunteers to take part in the program and make a difference to the staggering 70% of the world's population who don't have access to any dental care.
"It really is basic dental care which needs to be provided. A simple dental extraction can make life a lot more comfortable."