Dental care has always been something that I have taken for granted. My mother was adamant that we get our teeth cleaned and checked every six months, and we were lucky enough to always have the insurance to cover our dental care. At 35, I have never had a cavity or any other major problem with my teeth and am probably one of very few people who actually likes going to the dentist.
It’s a much different story for most people living in Uganda. As Jane Mandera, the dentist at the Bishop Caesar Asili Hospital told me, many people can’t afford dental care. She said her patients often shun her
advice because they know they can’t afford basic treatment. Many say, “eh, just keep on removing the teeth,” which is much more affordable than receiving annual cleanings, fillings and restorative work.
Jane joined the staff at Bishop Asili in 2009 after completing her degree in public health and general dentistry at the Mulago Paramedical School. At that time, the hospital’s dental unit only had a hard wooden straight back chair for patients to sit in while Jane worked on their teeth and a wooden table for her meager equipment. In 2010 Jane met Vivian Glyck, Founder and Executive Director at Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC). Accompanying Vivian was a pediatric dentist, Dr Puja Shah, who came to the hospital with her dental instruments and the intention of mentoring and helping Jane perform extractions and other dental work. However, Dr. Puja was unprepared for the poor condition of the hospital’s dental unit. Using the wooden chair and table she spent one week assisting Jane in the clinic. After her touching experience, Dr. Puja went back to the States with stories and photos to start raising money to upgrade the standard of the clinic.
Dr. Puja and her colleague, Lidia Trainer, engaged their community and raised the funds to equip the dental unit with a proper dental chair and dental instruments so Jane can comfortably and effectively serve the needs of her patients.
Jane says, “Now with the chair and instruments I receive the greatest joy when clients come back for follow up care and I see that they are following the advice that I gave them.” She says she still faces many challenges. Material for dental fillings is very expensive. So the hospital often runs short of these materials. Jane says right now she doesn’t have any materials for restorative treatments, like fillings. The fillings cost a patient 20,000 Ugandan shillings, less than buy discount cialis $10. The materials cost anywhere between $40 and $80 depending on the type of filling material. One package of material could last through 50 people needing fillings.
Jane always dreamed of being a dentist and delivering the best dental treatment. Relieving the clients of their pain and ensuring that they can have good dental hygiene is her ultimate goal. “Oral hygiene is really bad among my clients. I educate them how to maintain and take care of their teeth. I follow up with their care and see that they return for cleanings. They learn to take better care of their teeth,” says Jane. Before Dr. Puja,’s visit, Jane explained she was feeling discouraged working with so many inadequacies. “People needed so much, but we had so little; we couldn’t provide all the treatments. The visit with Dr. Puja, motivated me to reach out to the community and realize my dream again. They [JLMC and Dr. Puja] touched my life so much.”
She hopes in time the hospital will be able to afford a full dental unit. Currently, they do not have the resources to do dentures or crowns. She explains that people don’t like to be referred to Kampala for needed dental treatment. They feel discouraged because the transportation and stay in Kampala are additional expenses they cannot afford. “People come see me and they can’t even open their mouths the infection is so bad,” Jane says.
Contributions to the dental clinic are part of the Keep a Mother Alive program implemented by JLMC. A $100 contribution will help Jane and the Bishop Asili hospital purchase filling materials and other dental equipment for patients in dire need of dental work.