Page last updated at 23:36 GMT, Saturday, 21 June 2008 00:36 UK

A first trip to the dentist

By Lily Canter

Michael treats a patient while dentist Claire looks on
Michael learned quickly
Three UK dental surgeons travelled to the heart of Africa to set up a clinic in an area where tens of thousands of people live in pain with rotting teeth or gums and no-one to treat them.

Nandom in upper west Ghana is a poor, rural area, largely forgotten by the government and barely accessible by road.

There has never been a dentist in the region in living memory.

In an area rife with HIV and malaria, people travel for hundreds of miles, often on foot or by bicycle, to reach Nandom Hospital for treatment.

In just five days, the UK volunteers managed to teach two nursing staff basic dental care and treat more than 80 patients.

Quick learners

Sukhi Hans, a dental surgeon from Maidstone, said it was amazing how quickly the two nurses had picked up the dental skills.

When I remove the tooth I am so happy, as I take the pain away
Michael Unezemh-Millieent

She added: "They had never been to a dentist or knew anything at all. They didn't know what a molar or incisor was."

Nadia Amin, senior community dental surgeon for Northamptonshire, added that the tuition was kept simple - they weren't expected to tackle complications.

"We didn't want to scare them," she said.

"They were just doing simple procedures, just extractions and they picked it up amazingly quickly."

The three dentists brought equipment including surgical gloves, forceps, syringes and local anaesthetic and a sterilising machine given by charity Jacobs Well.

The dental chair and light were waiting for them at the hospital, having already been shipped out by FREED UK - the charity the three dentists were attached to during their stay in Ghana.

Teething troubles

After an initial two days of training, medical nurse Edna Bagson and general nurse Michael Unezemh-Millieent were unleashed on patients and treated 30 people and extracted as many teeth in just eight hours.

The day did not start off smoothly. First of all the sterilising machine was jammed shut with all of the clean equipment inside.

Edna treating a patient
Edna received two days training

Then once the steriliser was open (following a mobile phone call to the UK manufacturer) the water trickled onto the floor, conjuring up a swarm of giant ants from a crack in the floor, which then had to be bleached into submission.

Finally and miraculously, only 25 minutes late, the dental suite opened.

A 19-year-old boy called Donalus Booggerey came in first, complaining of a pain at the back of his mouth.

Miss Hans quickly identified that his wisdom teeth were coming through and he had nothing to worry about.

Malaria

A couple of hours in and Miss Bagson started to feel sick and had to take a few hours off to lie down.

Their pain threshold is so high
Claire Tyers

It later transpired that she was suffering from malaria, but she was back by the end of the week to continue.

Meanwhile Michael was steaming ahead, loving every minute of practising his new skills.

He said: "When I remove the tooth I am so happy, as I take the pain away. People are very happy to have a dentist in this place."

Next in was 71-year-old Patrick Kpiimodle, complaining about three bad teeth.

Michael receives advice from dentist Claire
Work was confined to simple procedures

Claire Tyers, a dental surgeon from Ipswich, explained that today they could remove only one tooth - the most painful - and he would have to come back to have the rest treated.

She said: "Most of the patients have strong teeth but there is lots of gum disease. This tends to be genetic, but malnutrition is a factor."

She added: "Their pain threshold is so high. In England you have to give them a lot of chat.

"You don't have to do that here and it takes half the time."

Broken jaw

Throughout the day a stream of patients came to the clinic including a man with sensitive teeth who was given a tube of Sensodyne toothpaste and a patient who had an extra tooth in her jaw.

Claire treating a patient
DIY treatment broke this man's jaw

But the most difficult case was that of Peter Segraza, who broke his jaw while trying to remove one of his own teeth, which was causing him pain.

He had had a chronic infection in his jaw for a number of years and had been into hospital several times to have fluid drained from the swelling but the cause of the problem had never been tackled.

Miss Tyers said: "We took out four teeth in the end and a piece of his jaw which was dead bone. His teeth were just flapping in the wind."

And the treatment did not stop when the English dentists left, as the hospital agreed to let the two trainees run a dental clinic three days a week.

Miss Tyers said: "I am very confident that they can carry on, on their own.

"They know their limitations and that is the most important thing.

"The worst kind of surgeon is the one that is gung ho and tries to do everything."

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