I’d always wanted to do a dental placement in a faraway country. I wanted to discover the different cultures and dental practices. I’m just heading into my 5th year at university and thought it was a great opportunity.
I spent three weeks in Tanzania. This was my first time outside of Europe so it was going to be quite an adventure.
I’m quite a confident person but upon arriving in Tanzania it was still great that the Work the World team were there to meet me. Myself and some other students who arrived at the same time were then taken to the Work the World house.
The day after arriving we were given an orientation of the dentistry referral hospital, which was a lot smaller than the main hospital the other healthcare students were based in.
It was immediately obvious there was a distinct lack of resources compared to what I was used to at home.
There were two other dental students on placement whilst I was there. One was in the same year as me and we learnt a lot from each other. The other was in her third year and again I think she benefited in learning from me.
I’ve had a lot of clinical experience at home and the hospital team was aware of my previous practice. So, after they got to know me a little better I was able to be more involved day to day and I was more hands on.
Most mornings I assisted other doctors. In the afternoons under supervision, I examined patients and also got involved in surgeries, fillings and root canals.
Patients pay for everything in Tanzania, meaning a lot present with very advanced conditions. For many, tooth preservation and treatments were simply not an option, they’d left it too long and an extraction was the only option.
For many patients it was their first visit to a dentist as they don't do routine check-ups due to the lack of money. This led to a lot of very frightened patients, especially children.
The dental chair was an old-school black leather chair, not very welcoming at all, which all added to patients feeling incredibly nervous.
During procedures such as fillings and root canals there were times where there was no water or suction and we just had to make do. It was often very challenging.
I saw some really interesting cases that I had never seen before. I’d only read about them in textbooks. One patient presented with really advanced herpetic stomatitis and he also had malaria. I learned that herpetic stomatitis is one of the oral manifestations of malaria, which was really interesting. I also saw an abscess at the base of a tongue. I wasn’t sure what it was but the doctors confirmed it.
Another patient presented whereby half of his upper jaw and teeth were mobile, which was probably a fracture.
If you needed an x-ray you would have to go to a different hospital, again this cost more money. So a lot of the time we were working with no x-rays. This meant a lot of procedures, such as extractions for example were kind of performed blind. Procedures for extractions were mostly the same as at home, however with no x-rays procedures like root cancels were incredibly difficult. But the hospital team was so resourceful with what they had.
The whole experience really helped me with problem solving, and I think this will really help me with the rest of my studies and my future career.
I feel so much more confident and comfortable using different instruments and also interacting with patients. Dialogue was limited due to the language, so having had to use non-verbal communication, especially with children, will really benefit me.
The doctors I spent time alongside were great. They were keen to explain everything to me in detail, but were also really interested in learning how we managed similar cases at home. There was a lot of mutual learning.
My time at the Work the World house was super. I still really miss the house, the staff and the other students. There was an amazing swimming pool and garden — perfect for relaxing after placement. Every Thursday, we’d have a really fun BBQ night. It was a great way to unwind and get to know my housemates better.
Everyone was really welcoming, and having new people arrive every Sunday was great. It was nice to meet new people each week. We’d all share stories of our placement experiences, and through that we learned a lot about the Tanzania healthcare system.
During my weekend trips I spent a lot of time travelling with my new housemates. We went to Zanzibar, which was absolutely incredible. It was a short flight from Dar es Salaam, I wanted to go on the boat but my housemates wanted to fly, so we did this. Zanzibar was the highlight on my trip.
Another weekend we went to Bongoyo Island which is about a 30-minute boat ride from Dar es Salaam.
I would honestly recommend an overseas placement to any dentistry student. I had the time of my life.