About two weeks ago, my team and I decided to pay a visit to a local dentist to understand the ways in which Tanzanian’s regard the dentist and the dentist’s role. The dentist we visited was at a community hospital.
Upon arriving at the hospital, we immediately begun to see differences between the way things were done in American hospitals and Tanzanian hospitals. For starters, there were long lines of patients waiting to see various doctors. Secondly, we witnessed the unique way in which they measured a baby’s weight by wrapping a baby in a cloth and hanging the cloth on a hook attached to a floating scale. This subsequently left the baby suspended in the air but managed to allow the nurses to record the baby’s weight.
We waited in line with the other patients who were there to see the dentist and were eventually called in to speak with her. Once we walked into her office, we noticed that most of the equipment was outdated while other important dental equipment were non-existent such as an amalgamator. We spoke to her about the procedures offered and were told that she only offered regular check-ups, teeth whitening, temporary fillings, and extractions. She shared that most Tanzanians do not visit the dentist often and usually only come in when they need their teeth to be extracted.
This was very insightful as it informed one of our interventions for our program. We were in the process of creating a presentation for an oral health seminar we were organizing so it was important to know what services the local dentist could offer the community we were working with.
Afterwards, she allowed us to observe an extraction. As if we had not been surprised enough by the differences we had already noticed, we were taken away by the manner in which she held her patient’s lower jaw down while using a great amount of force to pull one of her patient’s molars from the gum (this was all done after she had given her a shot of anesthesia, of course). It was much different from the American approach which entails the dentist gently shaking the affected tooth until it is loose enough to easily remove.
Given the new knowledge we gained from this trip, we learned that it is always important to understand how things are done in a certain community before trying to educate the people in that community.