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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday October 18, 2004

SAFARI DENTIST

Masai child receiving dental treatment
Masai children's teeth are seriously at risk

Whilst many Brits run a mile when it's time for a check-up, in Africa people are journeying up to 60 miles on foot to receive precious dental treatment. Inside Out joins dental surgeon Ray Damazo on his dental safari.

At the age of 74, you could be forgiven for assuming that retired dental surgeon Ray Damazo might be taking things easy - turning his attention to the garden perhaps?

But this couldn't be further from the truth.

American born Ray is swapping his stately home in Rutland's countryside for the grasslands of Africa in a bid to bring dental treatment to remote tribes.

Bitter-sweet

The rolling plains of Africa, alive with all manner of wildlife have attracted a steady stream of tourists looking for an alternative to the traditional package holiday.

Ray Damazo
Ray has dedicated his retirement to the Masai

But the growing tourist trade has brought increasing problems to the African Masai tribe - in particular their dental health.

Gifts of chocolate and sweets from western tourists have been taking a serious toll on the Masai children's teeth.

Dental health of the Masai is further hindered by a dental hygiene regime which often amounts to little more than picking at teeth with frayed sugar cane.

Incredible journey

The Masai were the last group of people to migrate into Kenya.

Their nomadic, pastoral lifestyle led to their rapid expansion and by 1800 they had established themselves across the Rift Valley.

With such dispersion, receiving medical and indeed dental treatment involves a great deal of walking.

Ray and partner Gail regularly treat children who have journeyed anything up to 60 miles to receive treatment.

On the move

Masai tribe member
The Masai are dispersed right across Kenya

To cover such vast and remote regions including Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Ray and Gail have clocked up an impressive 15,000 miles this year alone.

Moving a dental surgery complete with x-ray machines is quite a feat in the harsh grassland environment, yet surprisingly, with a wealth of volunteers, it only takes two hours to get the mobile surgery up and running.

Many of the children, whose teeth have decayed due to tourists' confectionery, have received past dental treatment from a bush dentist - quite often a family member.

This was the case for Jane, a young Masai girl, whose last tooth extraction was performed using the point of an un-sterilised knife and no anaesthetic.

Ray is visibly distressed about the situation.

"We saw this little girl two days ago - she had a big swelling in her mouth and a badly infected baby molar.

"The sad thing is this tooth is supposed to be in the mouth until she is 12-years-old.

"I really don't like doing what we're going to have to do, which is give her some novocaine and remove the tooth."

In these conditions the work of the safari dentists is vital.

"It's not going to be a pretty scene - she's looking to see what I have in my hands because she knows that there's some horrible thing there."

Finally the procedure is over, and Ray can relax.

"I think this is almost as hard on me as it is on here. The only consolation is at least we took it out without pain.

"This poor kid is only four or five-years-old and already, all this suffering."

Legacy

Masai chid receiving dental treatment
Imported confectionery is destroying teeth

Although there is no official data on how many children's teeth are being affected by imported sweets, Gail estimates that tens of thousands of Masai children are suffering.

But the Masai themselves are understandably curious about the new doctors.

One man told Inside Out, "The Masais are asking many questions about this doctor - where is he getting these donations - it's unbelievable."

It's certainly a worthwhile project - Ray began this venture over 10 years ago and now has a whole team working in conjunction to ensure dental treatment is available not just for children, but all members of the community.

Despite this, Ray is still searching for a successor who can match his drive, expertise and very importantly, funding.

In the meantime, Ray and Gail will continue with their vital work which has quite literally brought a smile to the faces of adults and children right across Africa.

See also ...

Inside Out: East Midlands
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC Health: Dental Health
BBC Health: Tooth Decay
BBC News: Africa

On the rest of the web
Africa Daily
Great Tribes: The Masai of Kenya and Tanzania

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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