So far, since February the Africa Mercy Dental team has attended over 4000 dental patients. Oral and dental hygiene is, like most healthcare back home, taken for granted. The amount of sugar we consume in fast food and fizzy drinks is balanced out with easy and cheap (relatively to what we earn) access to electric toothbrushes, new and improved dental toothpaste formulae, and dentists that can fix pretty much any problem we throw at them.
Here it’s not just a case of preserving teeth, or even relieving pain, but tooth infections – left as many are – can eventually be fatal.
Last Friday a small troop from the comms team tagged along with the Mercy Ships Dental Team while they taught in one of Lomé’s public elementary schools, Ecole Primaire Publique de Be-Klikame.
Donna Bartholomew, one of the dental hygienists stood in front of a classroom packed with children and asked how many own a toothbrush. Roughly half the class put their hands – shortly followed by much of the rest, who thought they probably should too.
Amused, Donna asked how many had brushed their teeth that morning. Less than a quarter raised their hand.
Gini Porter, the Mercy Ships Dental Coordinator is filmed by Joanne, a visiting videographer: “Dental health is very important. Learning to take care of their teeth now, as children, can prevent large cavities in the future. Our team performs many extractions every day in the dental clinic. We hope education at a young age will help,”.
Many of the houses these kids come from are classed under the poverty line, and families struggle to feed and clothe them. They have never been taught how to brush their teeth.
9-year-old Rodrique volunteers to show other children in the class how to brush their teeth, demonstrating with an oversized set of teeth and a toothbrush. The kids clearly understand, and Donna asks them to teach their family too. She explains the importance of a healthy diet in maintaining their teeth, and holds up charts with fruit and veg.
Mercy Ships have provided a brand new toothbrush for each of the children in the school, and in a typical African filing system (I’m not racist – just British about queueing) they clamber to get one.
Slowly the kids file outside to chat, and look at their toothbrushes. While we were there, they were awaiting exam results. The Mercy Ships team had coordinated their arrival with this, as the kids were otherwise on their summer holidays.
Meanwhile Donna and her team move onto the next classroom, addressing the need that will always keep her busy.