The Destination Africa Dental Team, comprised of Oregon Institute of Technology Dental Hygiene students, alumni and staff in La Grande, spent a week in Africa in November to provide dental care to orphaned children, children from impoverished families and the community members of Monrovia, Liberia.
The Destination Africa Dental Team, comprised of Oregon Institute of Technology Dental Hygiene students, alumni and staff in La Grande, spent a week in Africa in November to provide dental care to orphaned children, children from impoverished families and the community members of Monrovia, Liberia. Students making the trip were Sydney Craven and Ashley Nichols. Recent Dental Hygiene alumni Audra Gross-Allen, Jade Grant and Chelsea Koch were also part of the team.
The students and alumni were accompanied by Dr. Ed Stuedli, a dentist, and his wife Pauline Stuedli, a clinical instructor. Both are OIT emeritus faculty and currently serving as dental hygiene faculty with the ODS Companies and are acquainted with the students. The Studelis have made 27 overseas trips of this nature; this was their first to Africa.
The team went to Jennie Preparatory Elementary School to provide dental services to children, going classroom to classroom and seeing a range of ages from the very young all the way up to teenagers. Jennie Preparatory provides free education, meals and medical care. The Liberian school is run by its founder Jennie Freitag, whose daughter, Jodie Isaacson, is a graduate of the ODS College of Dental Sciences in La Grande. The majority of the children had never received dental care or seen a dentist.
After the team visited all the classrooms they opened up their services to teachers and the community members. The communities in Liberia don't have dentist offices. There are a total of three dentists in Liberia but they don't practice as dental specialists, rather, they are doctors located in the hospitals.
"There are 3.5 million people in Liberia, and 1985 was the last time that an outreach dentist team visited and provided services to the communities of Liberia," said Pauline Stuedli.
The dental team spent time during and outside of treatment time interacting with the men, women and children. The people of Liberia shared stories with them of chewing on sticks to clean their teeth, as well as coal as another use of brushing, due to the lack of proper dental equipment such as a toothbrush.
Ashley Nichols said, "One of the worst things I heard from the people is that it is a common practice to use a mixture of battery acid and water to kill the nerves in their mouth to stop the pain."
"It was a great experience because it was one place in the world we never thought we could go to. It was amazing to see different life styles and cultures," said Jade Grant.
"Upon arriving in Liberia we were welcomed with love, grateful open arms. The people were full of joy gratitude and happiness for us being there," said Sydney Craven.
Grant added, "It was a bit of a culture shock for them with most of them never had seen a Caucasian person. They would touch our skin with a look of amazement. Some had looked as if they were star struck."
Nichols said, "The most memorable moment for me was at the end of the week they asked us to come to the church because they had prepared a program for us. When we got there, there was a children's choir singing gospel music. Pauline joined in. And after they called each team member up one by one and presented us with an African Dress and a hug and kiss. This meant so much to me because I know the financial status of the people we were surrounded by, I knew that even though they hardly had means to provide for their families they sent us off with a beautiful gift."
Craven said, "The whole experience was memorable to me because I did lots of research on Liberia and just knowing that about four years ago they ended a Civil War that lasted about 15 years and seeing how the people there were so kind, loving and forgiving was a huge example to me. They treated us so well even after everything they had been through. They had no running water, and they had dirt roads with the biggest pot holes you had ever seen. It was amazing to experience the aftermath of war first hand. Life stopped, farming stopped, school stopped. To know the history of Liberia made this trip more meaningful. Many families lost loved ones but the men, women and children that did survive had such amazing hearts and great personalities."
"It was a real privilege to be there, we definitely would like to go back," said Pauline.
By the numbers
Approximately 1,500 fluoride treatments were provided (1200 to children). The dental team collected and distributed more than 1,500 toothbrushes to the children at Jennie Preparatory. Hygiene services performed included examinations, teeth cleanings, fluoride varnishes, sealant applications; training was also provided to the school staff. Extractions were commonly needed, and 222 extractions and restorative care services were performed. Two hundred fifty antibiotics were dispensed and 150 pain medications.
The students each had to raise $3,000 total to finance airfare, room, board and ground transportation costs through a spaghetti feed and silent auction. Students managed to get all of the supplies for the spaghetti feed and silent auction donated by local businesses and individuals.
After paying for necessary travel expenses, approximately $200 remained, which the students unanimously decided to donate to Jennie Preparatory. The school used this money to purchase materials for their school uniforms.
The dental hygiene program is a partnership between OIT, Eastern Oregon University and the Oregon Dental Service companies. Students may complete pre-program and general education courses at Eastern Oregon University. Professional program courses are delivered by OIT both on campus and via distance education. Students practice in a clinical facility provided by ODS. Upon successful completion, students earn an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene degree awarded from Oregon Institute of Technology.