Office News |6 min read

Providing Dentistry In Kenya

By Dr. Patricia Benca

As many of you know, Nancy Davis and I spent three weeks in November 2013 going to Kenya to do dentistry at the Maasai Dental Clinic adjacent to the Mara Game Reserve. We had the good fortune to travel with the founder of the clinic, Dr. Ray Damazo and his wife Gail, who I have been family friends with for the past 20 years.

They took excellent care of us as we toured Nairobi and traveled through the Rift Valley on our way to the clinic out in the bush.

We had an amazing experience!!  The people in Kenya were warm, welcoming and truly generous.  The Maasai people were strong, elegant and stoic – just what one would expect of a warrior culture.  The days began with a crowd on the front porch – our waiting room.  Our two Maasai dental assistants would triage the group and bring in the patients who were in the worst pain first.  Everyone was quite civilized about waiting for their turn even if it meant being there most of the day!

Saving Many Smiles

Nancy did many, many heavy duty cleanings – most of which were the patient’s first cleanings – ever!  I did a lot of extractions. They were a challenge, but I was getting pretty adept by the end of the 2 weeks!  My favorite projects were more in the cosmetic arena.  Dental esthetics is just as important to the Maasai people living in their dung/ mud huts as it is here in Seattle!  Girls can’t get married if their teeth are crowded or crooked.  Men can’t have more wives if they are missing a front tooth.  It is bad luck for the entire family if a child’s canines are too pointed or too prominent.As expected, many of the patients needed extractions.  Since most of these people had never had access to dental care at any time in their lives, decay was a big issue.   Coca Cola and Red Bull were just a few of first world products that were seen in every tiny market throughout the country side.  The prevalence of sugar and the lack of any dental care and protection was an excellent recipe for decay. The dental clinic facility was quite modern and our assistants were wonderful, and I was able to some fillings and restorative work.  The majority of the patients needed to have the assistants translate for us, but occasionally some of the people could speak English.  It was wonderful to be able to communicate directly with the patients – they were truly lovely!

Discoloration and malformation from too much fluoride in the drinking water makes it hard to get a job at one of the lodges.  They only hire people with perfect teeth!  So, there was a lot to do.  Whenever there was a chance, we did cosmetic dentistry.  I replaced missing front teeth with homemade composite teeth and a strip of nylon across the back; I rebuilt the malformed teeth with composite; I reshaped crooked teeth to make them look straight; we extracted overlapped teeth and took the points off of countless canines! Unfortunately, we had no laboratory support.

So much more could have accomplished, but without the laboratory equipment we were pretty limited.  There are plans for another building on the property that would provide for a basic laboratory and a formal kitchen with a freezer!! Now they just need to secure a reliable power source.   Now that is something to look forward to! J

Although the dental work took precedence – we worked M- F,  8 to 5 – we were able to do 3 all day game safari’s on the weekends in the  Mara Game Reserve.

Downtime at the Mara Game Reserve and The Great Rift Valley

The Mara Game Reserve (in Kenya) is contiguous with the Serengeti Game Reserve (in Tanzania).  The animals have a circular migration pattern within these reserves, and we were luckily enough to witness the tail end of The Great Migration.  A Drought in Tanzania slowed down the migration – the animals (Wildebeests, Zebras and African buffalos) decided that the grass was greener in the Mara!  Although the zebras, giraffes and elephants were my favorites, the wildebeests with their vast numbers were totally unforgettable! Unfortunately, the savannahs with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of animals as far as the eye could see was something I just couldn’t capture in a photo.

In addition to the animals, the geological formations of The Great Rift Valley were another highlight of the trip.  The extinct calderas and hot springs dotted the valley.  We had amazing vistas of the whole formation while we drove down and then up the escarpments.  The 6 hour trip through the Great Rift Valley (which cuts a large swath through Ethiopia, Kenya , Tanzania and further south into the continent) took us  from Nairobi to Narok and then on to the Maasai Dental Clinic just outside the Mara Game Reserve.  We were located adjacent to an old established Safari Game Lodge at Siana Springs –the clinic is even on Google Earth! Quite the contradiction since we didn’t have internet of Wi-Fi access!!

As expected, I took a lot of pictures.  I managed to come home with 3000 animal and dental photos! I think I got a little carried away. I managed to pare that down to a mere 2000, and from there I put together a power point with just 600 pictures.  My original plan was to attach the power point to my Facebook page or the Website, but the IT people said it was too large!  Imagine that?!?  So, I have the complete power point up and running in the office, and I have had to settle for just a few representative photos here on the blog site.  Please feel free to drop by the office anytime during regular hours and see the pictures.  They are showing on the big screen in the waiting area.

I hope everyone has had a Happy and Healthy New Year 2014 so far!  Please drop by the office and see some of the Africa photos.  Nancy and I had a blast and plan to return in late 2015 to do it again!! Asante Sana

2 comments on “Providing Dentistry In Kenya”
  1. Annbel

    Thanks for visiting Kenya. My moms self esteem in weak because of her discolored teeth. Mine too need crowning. We are in a slum called Dandora in Kenya and we request you to fix our teeth when you come back

  2. Noelle Gichohi

    Jambo Daktari (Dr.) Benca,

    First, I would like to say asante sana for providing dental care to the Maasai people. Thank you so much for doing this. I know for a fact that you made an everlasting impact on many mouths!

    Having grown up in Kenya, I can attest to the fact that dental care was not accessible to many of us, and, more often than not, the only remedy to a tooth with a cavity was extraction. Toothbrushes and toothpaste were luxury items to many families and tooth decay was widespread especially among children.

    I am interested in learning more about your next visit to provide dental care. How can I help?

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published.