Filling the Gaps

Dentist Sweke at Karawa Hospital

How can we help one dentist in Congo change dental health from thousands of miles away? Slowly, over time, and with a strong focus. Some of our Medical Ambassadors are currently in this process with Dentist Sweke, the only trained dentist at Karawa Hospital.

Three years ago, Dr. Jim Walker was in a meeting with our Congolese counterparts and heard them say that the entire region had practically no dental care. They only have a handfull of dentists for 3-4 million people. With no electricity and the principle procedure being full extraction, there had to be a better way. With some prayer, research, and networking, Jim connected with Dan Connors D.D.S., who now leads our Dental Focus Group. Dan discovered through online research that a group in eastern Congo was successfully saving teeth with no electricity and no drilling by using a low cost material called Glass Ionomer.

Glass Ionomer

This is a fluoride-releasing filling material that restores teeth to proper form and function. It must be applied to the tooth before pain sets in and decayed material must be cleaned as much as possible. No anesthesia is required for this technique and patients tolerate it well because of minimal noise and minimal discomfort. It can be used in most locations as long as there is a flat surface for patients to recline, and is very inexpensive as very little equipment is necessary. This material is commonly used in rural areas in other parts of the world because it does not require electricity, it bonds and seals very well to teeth, and still holds strong after 10 years in over 80% of patients. With success in other parts of the world, Dan thought this could possibly work in Congo.

As a young dentist and father of small children, Dan could not go to Congo himself to meet with Sweke to see if he would want to test the Glass Ionomer material. But Jim knew of a recently retired dentist, Bill Scott, who might have been interested in assisting. In March 2016, Bill went on a Medical Ambassadors trip to observe, learn, and introduce the idea. By June 2016, Dr. Sweke was testing the material. To date he has used the material in over 30 patients at Karawa Hospital. By charging $5 per filling, they can cover the cost of the material and help fund the hospital, which makes the idea potentially self-sustaining.

Dr. Bill Scott observes Sweke at Karawa Hospital


Dr. Bill Scott and Dentist Sweke

At this time, Sweke is planning to travel to the rural communities around Karawa to provide basic dental education and let people know how to save their teeth and avoid the unbearable pain. And, more testing is in process. Sweke is still seeking the balance of what potentially is a high demand service with cost, education, and availability. Please keep him in your prayers as he tests ideas and tackles these issues.

Please pray for:

  • Sweke, the only dentist in the Karawa area, as he tests ideas and visits communities
  • Communities who will learn from his dental education visits and experience the benefit of treating cavities early
  • Our partnership with the local doctors and nurses
  • Planning for upcoming trips to Congo

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Posted in Congo health, Medical Ambassadors.