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Dental volunteering in Tanzania with Bridge2Aid

Blog Author Minnie Lyons-Coleman

Blog Date 11/12/2019

The Bridge2Aid Team and patients at the start of a day of extractions outside Ushirombo Health Centre

After watching a video of a Bridge2Aid project as a foundation dentist (FD), I was sold, and filled in my application form to do some volunteering for them as quickly as I could, albeit a little nervous at the prospect!

I’ve always had a passion for volunteering but the thing that drew me most to Bridge2Aid is that Ian and Andie Wilson (the founders) have set up programmes to train Tanzanians to deliver emergency dental care, this means once they’ve left, they leave behind skilled Tanzanians. 

Since the initial training programme was set up, Bride2Aid has led 100 training programmes and trained 600 health workers to deliver emergency dental care.

The Bridge2Aid team


Health worker extracting a tooth supervised whilst patient sat on a plastic chair

Bridge2Aid trips may vary, but on my trip, the UK team was made up of four dental nurses, six dentists, and one clinical lead dentist. 

We had three Tanzanian site team workers who aided in communication, site admin, monitoring and evaluation. 

The care and support from the Bridge2Aid site workers was unbelievable, I felt so safe and looked after throughout the whole trip. 

Between our team, we worked for 12 days to train six health workers to deliver emergency dental care. At the end of the 12 days, the health workers could safely take a medical and pain history, diagnose, treat within their scope of practice, deliver local anaesthetic, successfully extract teeth, know when and what to refer and sterilise instruments. 

As this was my first trip, I wasn’t quite prepared to see how much the health workers needed to learn, having spent five years studying to be dentist, I was astonished at how much they could learn in just 12 days! 

Watching the health workers progress from holding a pair of forceps for the first time to successfully taking a tooth out was heart-warming.

Although I was somewhat nervous watching them deliver their first inferior dental nerve block, elevate with couplands and extract their first tooth, I was just as equally proud of them. 

Not only was I impressed watching them develop as clinicians, but it was really rewarding watching how proud – and so rightly they were of themselves. 

Being able to teach the health workers, encourage them and provide supportive feedback was really fulfilling. Their work ethic was impressive, some days we would take up to 120 teeth out between the 6 pairs of us. Not only was it hard for them to learn a new skill, it also required physical strength and resilience from them during the 12 days. 

The patients


The patients waiting outside the clinics to be treated

I can’t explain how kind and thankful the Tanzanian patients were. Many of them had travelled miles to reach the clinic and suffered years of pain. 

I think one of my fondest memories of the Bridge2Aid patients was a 12-year-old girl who unfortunately had a painful, non-restorable carious UR6 that needed extraction. I was astounded by how brave and happy she was throughout the extraction. 

It surprisingly turned out to be a difficult extraction, which caused me to get quite a sweaty forehead (potentially a side effect of the heat, or just my struggle) which was quickly dabbed by a nurse. The little girl just kept smiling throughout the procedure, with her thumbs up, giving me motivation and telling me I could do it! 

At the end of the extraction the little girl’s mother, who was pregnant, was so grateful that I managed to take the tooth out she said she was going to call her unborn baby after me... I just hope it was a girl! 

This is just one example of the many patients in Tanzania who are in desperate need of dental care and extremely grateful for the efforts to take out painful, non-restorable teeth. 

The patients would arrive early in the morning to be placed on the list for an appointment. Some patients would arrive having walked miles, some pregnant or carrying children and babies, they would then sit and wait for hours in the sun to be seen and still be extremely grateful for treatment. 

Taking out teeth in Tanzania 


Since my Bridge2Aid trip, my confidence in extractions has grown, as there were many obstacles to take out teeth whilst out there. 

The chairs the patients sit on for extractions are normal wooden or plastic chairs, there’s no headrest and no chance of the chair reclining or being raised up. 

Head torches or handheld torches are used as a light source and there’s only couplands and forceps to chose from, as this is all the health workers can use when they are in their clinics. 

It was surprising how much you can adapt to the available resources and still manage to extract teeth successfully. I certainly appreciated my precious luxator, reclining chair and choice of forceps on return to work in the UK!

I was amazed at how quick the Tanzanians learned, and the skills they gained from two weeks of training, they were truly inspiring to watch, and it also made me reflect on my own work.

Time out


Every evening we would have a team meeting to discuss the day, the progress of our trainees and what we could do in order to get the best out of each of them. 

As there was little, if any mobile phone signal, we had to rely on each other for entertainment in the evenings during our time off. 

Following our evening showers (usually from a bucket of water), we usually ended up in hours of card games, Bananagrams or Jenga. 

There was something quite relaxing about being disconnected, being in the middle of a rural town in Tanzania, with little lighting and just playing simple card games. 

Making a difference

Our team bonded well, and we were all so proud of how far our six trainees had come who at the end of the 12 days managed to pass their assessments and can now deliver emergency dental care to Tanzanians. 

During our 12 days we treated 776 people and trained five health workers who can now provide the emergency dental care needed locally. 

The training programme provided by Bridge2Aid is very strict and one member didn’t pass, however he was provided with further training by his dental officer in order to continue to develop his skills and get up to standard.  

Bridge2Aid are such an incredible charity and their efforts are achieving such great work all over Tanzania. It was the most rewarding and heart-warming two weeks of my life so far, and I feel so passionate about the work they are delivering.  

I felt really privileged to have been a part of their team for two weeks and urge anyone who is interested to get in touch with them. 

Minnie Lyons-Coleman, GDP

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