Dental clinic volunteers bring smiles to Maasai people
What if you couldn’t simply call a dentist to make an appointment when you had a tooth ache? For many in the Maasai Mara area, that is a normal part of life but thanks to some folks that visited on an AMS mission trip in February 2020, Maasai adults and children got some of the care they needed.
Dr. Mark Turner, a dentist for 36 years, has gone on many mission trips and recently returned to Kenya right before the Covid-19 pandemic really took hold across the world. While the Totsy Boyko Memorial Maasai Dental Clinic has some of the tools Turner used at home, he also brought with him supplies of Novocain and other things he thought he might need.
“Things can happen that would surprise me if I were in my normal environment, but in these situations, nothing surprises me,” Turner said. “I see preteens carrying their younger siblings to dental visits without adult supervision. I see moms and babies walking miles to get treatment. I’ve seen dental anomalies that I would never have seen elsewhere. But because I am open to just about anything, I am not surprised.”
He enjoyed interacting with the local people and helping when he could, mostly with extractions. Once he gave a young girl a new tooth and a radiant smile, wiping out the embarrassment and teasing she used to receive about the gap in her teeth.
“I get the greatest satisfaction from being able to connect with someone either through a positive dental experience, or perhaps just being able to make them smile with a joke or an attempt at speaking to them in their own language,” Turner said.
Ellenor Simmons went on the trip as well and while she had no previous dental experience, she said she loved meeting new people and trusted Mark to guide her
She said there was plenty for her to do from setting up the supplies of gloves, masks and gauze to sanitizing equipment. She even learned some Swahili words like how to say open, close and spit, to help the experience be better for everyone.
Sometimes, when the electricity went out, she waved out the window to have someone start the generator.
Three to five patients were seen on a typical day before lunch, while mainly children were seen in the afternoon when they were done with school. Before heading back to camp at 4:00, the clinic and equipment had to be cleaned, put away and set up for the next day.
“I learned that people can be happy even without what we as Americans think is essential,” Simmons said. “It was great seeing children smiling and singing as they walked to school on a dirt path next to the road. I feel that I am bringing back such a great feeling of accomplishment, knowledge and understanding of the people we went to provide for and their culture.”