Gambia 2015 – Mission Toothbrush
Gambia, the smallest African country is wedged into surrounding Senegal and is home to 1.9 million residents. In May this year, I had the opportunity to visit Gambia for my usual annual trip but this experience was the most rewarding trip as a young dentist.
On 20th May I embarked on a flight to the Gambia with 1000 toothbrushes with the aim of benefitting as many individuals as I could. Developing nations like Gambia, dental care is usually non-existent or unaffordable. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are seen as luxury items, not necessities. The biggest challenge I faced was how was I to educate individuals where brushing their
teeth was never a priority.
On arrival, I set out an itinerary where over the course of a week I would try to visit as many schools and Health Centre’s to benefit as many people as I could. This would also prove a challenge as 58% of the population lives in urban towns and villages, as far as several hundred kilometres of the capital, Banjul.
Over the course of the week, I managed to arrange and visit 6 schools, each with approximately 500 children attending. Many schools are over subscribed with children; having a split day with half the children attending from 6am – 12pm, and the following at 12pm-6pm. Many of these children travel over an hour on foot to attend school everyday and would never see a dentist in their
I was able to organise workshops with these children with the assistance of the school principles where the workshops had 3 key messages; the necessity of adequate nutrition, regular oral hygiene and the use of fluoride products.
To help with the instruction of tooth brushing I got involved and brushed my own teeth, which helped communicate the correct technique to the Gambian Children. It was also important to educate the teachers as this was the vital point of reinforcing the message to future generations and reach out to the masses with such limited resources.
The most memorable part of the trip was travelling over 2.5 hours to a town called Batabutukontora, where I was able to visit an orphanage. Spending an afternoon with the children proved to be invaluable as it made me realise that so many necessities we take for granted like running water, basic food are all daily struggles, yet they had beaming smiles, facing each day with a new struggle. Gambia’s population falls below the overall poverty line and 40% of the population below the food poverty line.
Gambia is also very culturally diverse, with many ethnic groups some including Mandinka, Fula, Wolof. The language barrier did prove to be a challenge however by using non-verbal communication and the use of props, the toothbrush proved to be universal.
This trip to Gambia was eye opening, not only did I get to divulge into the various communities, I had most importantly made a difference. This message will help to instill and develop the habits of regular oral hygiene maintenance in the youngest children to prevent caries. It made me realise how lucky we are to have healthcare at our doorsteps. In years to come, I hope to reap the rewards of seeing each new smile. I would urge any dental professional or student to take some time out of their busy schedules to reinforce basic oral hygiene to whoever they can and remember that good dental hygiene is more than just a beautiful smile.