FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Dr. Alain Auguste frequently sees phobia among his patients in his Aspen Dental Office in Fairfield. On a recent four-day trip to Tanzania in East Africa, however, he found the patients more fearful than anything he had ever experienced.
“They were very hospitable,’’ said Auguste, who traveled with a group of Aspen Dental volunteers to the city of Arusha to operate four makeshift dental offices, where they provided care for more than 600 Tanzanians. “They were very warm people. But they were really scared. After we explained the procedures to them, they became great patients and we were able to help them get the care they desperately needed.”
Many Tanzanians have never seen a dentist, which Auguste said caused such great fear that some patients grabbed the hands of dentists while they worked. The team had the help of Swahili interpreters to calm the patients. “It was a dangerous situation,’’ he said. “We explained to patients that we needed them to stay calm.”
Auguste said he was also alarmed to see the effects of fluorosis among Tanzanians. Fluorosis, an excess of fluoride, is prevalent throughout Africa; more than 80 percent of people suffer from it. Fluorosis usually occurs from excessive fluoride in drinking water, and causes soft and brittle teeth. The water’s high fluoride level comes from volcanic activity in nearby Mount Meru.
“It’s a public health issue that really needs to be addressed on a bigger scale,’’ Auguste said.
The trip was the first to Africa for Auguste, a native of Haiti. He frequently sees a lack of education in remote areas, but was surprised by the seriousness of fluorosis in Tanzania and the lack of dentists. There were just two in the entire region.
Auguste and the Aspen Dental team performed extractions, cleanings, fillings and more to alleviate the most urgent dental needs and to improve the oral health of area residents. Operating in third-world conditions, volunteers worked without running water or electricity. Patients sat in lawn chairs and old barber chairs to receive treatment.
Auguste said the trip was a learning experience, and made him appreciate his work and surroundings. “Once you do a medical mission trip, it stays with you. It’s something you want to do again,’’ he said. “It definitely has an impact. In a short period of time, we touched and educated a lot of people, and worked to prevent infections. It gives you a lot of humility. Things we take for granted are a luxury there.”
Auguste said he would enjoy a return trip to Tanzania. He believes a clinic would help solve some of the long-term issues that the nation faces, and he would love to be part of the solution. “If I have the opportunity, I’d love to do it again,'' he said.
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