For An Appointment with the Dentist

Have you ever been desperate for an appointment with a dentist?

While in the US, it’s common to see a dentist for a check-up once or twice a year, here in Benin some cannot see a dentist until they have a major issue in need of surgery. Most cannot afford treatment even then. This results in many living with untreated dental conditions, some of which lead to the massive facial tumors we see on the ship.

Off ship, the dental team works hard to prevent and treat while problems are relatively small. This year alone they have seen close to 7000 patients. But before they can get an appointment with a Mercy Ships dentist, they have to make it through dental screening. I (Briana) had an opportunity to assist with a recent dental screening. Here’s how the day went.

We left the ship early and drove to the site of the dental clinic, about 5 miles from the ship. By the time we arrived, the lines for screening already stretched for more than a city block. Split into three lines-for men, women and children; their faces all looked toward the screening team, hoping for a dental operation. Unfortunately, there is not enough time in a week for everyone to be seen. It’s the job of the screening team to decide who needs attention the most.

Wearing a bright orange hat, my job for the day was to assist Max, the Dental Team Supervisor, as he makes hard calls on who gets an appointment and who does not. First Max went up and down the lines looking for the worst cases. Then, we began distributing wristbands. Monday went to the most urgent cases, Tuesday for the next most serious, and so on. I marked the bands (similar to what you get at a concert or theme park) and indicated that the appointment is non-transferable. Meanwhile, those in the lines got increasingly more restless. Fearful that they might not get a coveted wristband and the dental appointment it represents, men and women open their mouths wide and gesture frantically each time Max and I walked by.

Gradually, the number of wristbands allotted for the week dwindles. As I mark the band around the last woman’s wrist, I looked up and saw the faces of those receiving a “no” for this week-probably around 80 in all. Please pray for the individuals receiving a “no” and also for the crew that have the hard job of delivering the “no’s” week after week.

We were instructed to move in quickly to avoid a scene when the lines realized that there were no more appointments for the week. They sky opened up and dumped rain, effectively dissipating the crowds while I toured the clinic and saw the dentists already hard at work on the patients for the day. I saw other crew busy giving dental education and toothbrushes while sharing the love and message of Christ.

I’m grateful for these opportunities to get out of my routine–to see our crew in action and to see the smiles of those we’re able to bless.


**Please note, we’re currently having difficulties adding photos to our posts. We’ll add pictures soon.**

For another accounting, see this post from my colleague Ben.