Tim Clavin, DDS, FOT’s Champion for Dentistry has been in practice in Minneapolis for over 25 years and has long had a heart for medical missions. He had completed several trips to Indonesia when a colleague suggested he explore an opportunity to serve at Tenwek Hospital. He made the first trip in 2008 with his family more than a decade ago and has returned annually ever since.
Good oral health is a habit with positive outcomes we take for granted, observes Dr. Clavin. But in underdeveloped nations, the combination of poverty, malnourishment, and poor oral hygiene leads to tooth decay and infections that can be life-threatening. Like much of the world, dentistry in the rural areas of Kenya focuses on a “surgical model” where people postpone dental treatment until pain forces them to seek care. By that time, surgical extraction of diseased teeth is the only option. Untreated oral infections also can lead to other serious health problems.
Tenwek’s dental clinic was marginally equipped when Dr. Clavin first visited. But he was impressed by the staff’s desire to be effective Christian clinicians. Milka Chepkemoi, the oral health officer, has a great desire to implement the “preventative” model of dental care which promotes good oral hygiene and treats dental problems before they become acute.
In 2015, Dr. Clavin’s church, Crossview Lutheran Church, sponsored a “Redeeming Christmas” fundraising campaign that raised $112,000 to purchase new diagnostic and treatment equipment for Tenwek’s dental clinic. Working through local Rotary contacts, he and a dedicated team of supporters also raised over $50,000 to equip a dental surgery operating room.
Dr. Clavin was asked to help design Tenwek’s new Eye and Dental Clinic, which has an ergonomic layout that benefits both patients and clinicians, and a designated surgical area. “We can do so much more with an operating room dedicated to dental surgery,” he explains. We can do more extractions while patients are sedated and reduce the fear and stress people associate with dental work. If people experience that trauma as children, they avoid dental care for the rest of their lives. Having a safe and calm environment to treat children and to remove wisdom teeth is a huge win.”
Dr. Clavin envisions that one day, Tenwek’s dental clinic may be a site where Kenyan dentistry students could find real-world field experience. Tenwek’s nursing students also could learn the importance of oral health and, “They might discover that dentistry is their calling,” he says.
For now, Dr. Clavin is focused on smaller wins. “For $25, a child can be seen in the dental OR. Small gifts like these are a treasure.” “If the Lord calls you to go to Tenwek, move on it,” he encourages. “I have been humbled to do the work and it has enriched me 100-times fold. I would never trade my mission experiences for all the gold in the world.”
Learn more about a short-term medical mission trip to Tenwek HERE.
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