Isle of Man dentists offer relief in Uganda project
No-one likes a trip to the dentist. But in parts of Uganda, the choice is often "do-it-yourself" or see the witch doctor.
"Even if dental care was available, very few could afford it," said dentist Erik Ahlbom.
"People visit the local witch doctor for a diagnosis and the treatment can be brutal with primitive tools. It can be extraordinarily painful for the patient."
The Swedish dentist, who runs the Port Erin dental surgery in the Isle of Man, has just returned from a two-week trip to the East African country, where he treated hundreds of patients.
The mission was part of the Dentaid campaign, which aims to help victims of infant oral mutilation.
Its volunteers have described examples of unqualified people "removing an infant's healthy baby teeth using unsterile knives and bicycle spokes" resulting in severe pain and, in the most severe cases, death.
He was joined on the trip by his colleagues Linda Dobinson and dental nurse Maria Shilling.
The trio worked day and night from a mobile surgery in the south-west of the country.
Miss Shilling, 25, said: "Usually people at home are not keen on a visit to the dentist but in Uganda they were travelling from miles around. They came in droves."
'Witchcraft and magic'
The trip was Mr Ahlbom's second to the landlocked country as part of the international Dentaid project.
"It is a very challenging environment to work", he said.
"To be able to help [people] with western medicine and techniques, instead of [them relying on] witchcraft, sorcery and magic, is very rewarding."
A year-long fundraising effort ensured Mr Ahlbom, a dentist of 29 years, could be joined by his colleagues.
Miss Shilling said it was "incredibly rewarding".
"We worked day and night but you are just scratching the surface," she said.
Part of the problem is a lack of qualified dentists, even for those in Uganda who could afford them.
According to Mr Ahlbom, there is one for every 158,000 people, compared to one for every 3,000 in the UK.
He continued: "Half the population do not even have food security - it is a very, very poor country."
"Infected teeth can fester for years, which not only creates misery but also, according to the World Health Organisation, accounts for a loss of working and school days comparable to malaria or HIV."
The group travelled to the Kanungu district near the Rwandan border from where they operated their portable dental hospital.
Mr Ahlbom: "It would be easy to dismiss Uganda as failed and hopelessly corrupt. As always, the truth is far more complex than that.
"There is now a network of Ugandan dentists working alongside Dentaid, trying to build up a corruption-free health care structure and it is an honour and a privilege to work shoulder to shoulder with them."