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  • There are few dentists in Papua New Guinea outside Port Moresby;
  • there are 8.5 million people in PNG
  • More than 50% of children 4-12 years of age have dental cavities due to increased sugar consumption and no dental hygiene;
  • More than 80% of children 12-18 years chew betel nut. This damages the enamel, gums and soft tissues of the oral cavity and is very addictive;
  • PNG has the highest rate of oral cancer in the world.

“The above statistics make it easy to become passionate about helping the people of Papua New Guinea with dental hygiene,” says Jill Tait. “It is easy for me as a registered nurse to pull a rotten tooth out, but a better goal is to help them to understand dental hygiene and to train the next generation to become dental assistants, therapists and even dentists.”

Before COVID, Jill was running two-week training events bringing nurses in from bush locations to teach tooth extraction and hygiene. They would go back with basic equipment to do this. With assistance from overseas dentists, more than 30 nurses were trained. This programme had to lapse due to the pandemic, however Jill has not given up and has partnered with dentist Dr Camy Thomas, a missionary at the Baptist Mission Hospital in the Southern Highlands of PNG. Dr Thomas agreed to take Maiegi Ginni, Jill’s dental assistant, and give her further training.

Dr Thomas has a vision to train the nurses in the Southern Highlands on how to do tooth extraction and dental hygiene. She has also visited Jill’s clinic to provide treatment of staff and students at the Christian Leaders’ Training College and surrounding communities. Jill hopes to resume regular dental training workshops next year.

Meanwhile in West Africa, Dentist Dr Simon Stretton-Downes has built dental services and training under tough conditions in Liberia, West Africa. With five million people and a total of only around seven dentists nationwide, most people in Liberia receive no dental care at all. Many suffer from preventable oral health conditions such as decayed and broken teeth and gum disease.

Basic knowledge about self-care is lacking.

In some ways Liberia is similar to other African countries, with rapid population growth (43% are under 15 years old) and widespread poverty (83% live below the poverty line). Two recent civil wars and Ebola have added to Liberia’s challenges. Simon visited the country in 2016 and came away feeling strongly that he could make a difference there.

He had already accumulated abundant experience as a dentist in the UK in general practice, and as a civilian dentist with the British Army, plus nine years as a dentist in Ethiopia with SIM. In 2017 Simon and his wife Grace moved to Liberia and he began work at Trinity Dental Clinic which forms part of ELWA hospital near Monrovia, the capital.

Working with SIM, Simon has within the past few years expanded the clinic into a facility with modern equipment, eight clinical rooms and 20 staff. He also created mobile clinical teams that travel for 2-3 days at a time into remote areas where zero dental care exists. These expeditions showed great need among people who live far away from any hospital.

It soon became clear that the answer lay not in temporary clinics, but in training Liberians to gain skills in dental care, and then to work in rural areas. Problem: no dental training is available in the country. One part of the solution is more fully qualified dentists, so one clinic staff member is currently being trained in Kenya and another one in the Philippines. The second part of the solution: Simon is creating the Liberia Dental Therapy School (LDTS), a new purpose-built facility that will train Liberians to achieve 2-year diplomas in basic dental care. The 5-year project’s cost has been calculated at $950,000. Donations are invited; to donate,  click here and quote project # 95210. —David Blaker


For preparation of lectures to make up the new curriculum.

For the selection of the first 4 students to start in September.

That in God’s timing Jill Tait’s plans to expand dental training in PNG would happen