Global Health Nexus, Winter 2002

International Partners in Health: NYU Dentistry in Tanzania

Located about three hours southwest of Mount Kilimanjaro lies the village of Arusha in Tanzania. Arusha is the home of more than two million people. It is located about six hours by car from the capital of Tanzania, Darr es Salaam, and this past August it was the destination for a three-person team of NYU Dentistry students and faculty who headed to East Africa to provide dental care.

In addition to the NYU Dentistry team, the outreach included a delegation of 20 students from other universities in the United States. I organized the dental outreach component with the full support of Dean Alfano and with help from Edward Bergman, a junior at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies and a cofounder of a not-for-profit community development and revitalization organization called Miracle Corners of the World, Inc., which had built a community center in Arusha. I worked with Dr. Anthony Vernillo and Ms. Mai Nguyen, ’04, to set up a dental clinic where local residents could be treated.

The clinic had two plastic lounge chairs that were used as dental chairs. Each patient filled out a questionnaire that had been translated into Swahili. Once the patient was seated, a full dental evaluation was performed, using a data entry sheet based on a form obtained by the World Health Association. The majority of patients presented with severe fluorosis stains on their teeth. I had never seen such yellow and black teeth from fluorosis. Most patients suffered from thermal sensitivity, some had infections, but overall the rate of caries was not extremely high, probably because of the fluorosis. Within eight days, our team had screened and treated over 200 patients, performing procedures ranging from prophies and fillings to extractions.

During our visit to Arusha, we met the Regional Commissioner Daniel Ole Njoolay, and Dr. B. S. Lembariti, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences in Dar es Salaam. Both men expressed interest in staffing our new dental clinic on a permanent basis through a collaborative effort between NYU and Muhimbili University.

On our last day, we held an opening ceremony for the community center, where hundreds of families came to show their support and thank us for our services. Personally, I experienced great satisfaction when the dental clinic was dedicated in memory of my sister, Liana Cohen.

We plan to return annually to Tanzania. The Arushans have no other option for dental care, and many said they will wait for us to come back.