A big-hearted Aberdeen dental student is leading her class mates to Africa to help improve the smiles of people living in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Over the last three summers Clare Lowe, from Westhill, Aberdeenshire, has travelled to Tanzania with the charity ‘Go Make A Difference’ where she has helped build a health centre, taught health education and organised an oral health survey with the permission of the Tanzanian Government.
This summer she will take some of her class mates and other dentists from Aberdeen with her to Musoma in rural Tanzania to implement an oral health programme that Clare has developed.
“When I first went out, I hadn’t started my dental course yet so I was helping to do all kinds of things like helping provide clean water sources and teaching general health education to youngsters,” explains Clare. “But as I progressed in my dental course, I realised the skills I was learning in Aberdeen could be put to good use in Tanzania.
“The standard of oral hygiene education was pretty bad in Musoma. Locals use a frayed stick to clean their teeth as toothbrushes and toothpaste are expensive, they’re just not a priority for these people. Little was done in terms of prevention. They were forced to wait until something went wrong with a tooth and then either pull it out, or consult a local witch doctor.
“Last summer I started working with the local government to develop an oral healthcare programme. We started off by conducting a survey around villages in the area and used this information to develop ‘Cheka Zaidi’ – which translates as ‘Laugh More’.”
This summer Clare, 24, will return to Tanzania for two weeks with classmates and tutors from the Aberdeen Dental School with the support of the GoMAD charity to teach a local team how to deliver the Cheka Zaidi curriculum so they can work all year round to educate locals in good oral hygiene.
After the team return to Aberdeen, Clare will support the programme for the first month by visiting schools with the local team.
Clare said: “The team will work closely with local school teachers to train them in supervising daily tooth brushing and they will visit each school every month to re-enforce key oral hygiene messages and to ensure the daily supervised tooth brushing is continuing. I’ll also keep going back for the next five years to support them, re-stock supplies and ensure everything is progressing.”
The project has been supported by the Wood Family Trust and donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste from Colgate and Henry Schein.
Clare and her classmates have raised nearly £2,000 to fund their trip through a variety of activities including a sponsored leg waxing and a bake sale.
Only nine percent of the population of Musoma have ever seen a dentist. Despite 73% of adults having obvious decay experience, only 0.01% had restorations present. It is estimated that in Tanzania there is only one dentist to every 100,000 residents, compared to one in 2500 in the UK. Access is further compromised by geographical location and financial restraints.
Clare added: “The more I have learned, the more compelled I feel to play some part in making a difference within these communities.”