Dental Students Spend Summer Break Treating Children in Kenya



While most dental students spend their summer breaks recharging and getting ready for the next school year, a team of 7 fourth-year students from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry travelled to Kenya to treat about 2,200 children between the ages of 6 and 18 years.

As part of the school’s Kenya Summer Program, the students stayed in and around Meru, a village 5 miles north of the equator and about 150 miles away from Nairobi. They also travelled 2 hours to provide treatment at Leeta Primary School in a mountain village.

During their trip, the students visited schools and set up temporary clinics to provide mostly preventive treatment such as the application of fluoride and silver diamine fluoride, which is an antimicrobial liquid brushed on cavities to stop tooth decay without the need for drilling.

The students focused on preventive treatment because their temporary clinics do not have the necessary tools and equipment to perform more complex treatment. Children with the most serious problems were referred to local hospitals, which is where most dental treatment takes place in Kenya.

Also, most of the children that the students examined during the trip had cavities or other serious issues, which seem to be increasing in Kenya, perhaps due to increased access to sugar in candy and other foods and beverages, according to the university.

Furthermore, the students conducted education sessions where they demonstrated proper brushing techniques and provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. They also visited local hospitals to learn about how dentistry is practiced in Kenya.

“Practicing in a different culture, which is so different than the United States, is probably the most important value that will stay with them forever,” said Carlos González-Cabezas, DDS, MS, PhD, who supervised the trip.

“The second thing is they are seeing the disease in a different presentation than they will see it here in a lecture or clinic at the dental school. While there are serious oral health issues with children in this country, it is on a smaller scale than in Kenya, where cavities and other serious problems affect the vast majority of children. So they will see cases there they won’t see here,” González-Cabezas said.

The students who travelled to Kenya included Patrick Chuang, Teddy Eusebio, Leen Khatib, Jessica Kleinschmit, David Li, Matthew Nye, and Sara Safdari-Sadaloo. They also have posted video of their experiences on YouTube.

“I always like to say that our students may learn in 2 weeks what they learn at the dental school in 3 months,” said González-Cabezas.

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