Fiona works at Leopard Hill, a safari camp (luxury tent) in Kenya, Africa’s Masai Mara region.
Although she works for guests and travelers from all over the world who come to visit the camp within the 77-square-mile Mara Naboiso Conservancy, she wouldn’t smile due to decay on a canine that had turned black. No affordable dental clinics are located anywhere near her. Fiona had lost confidence. She feared others would notice her tooth. She continued to show up for work without ever smiling.
Fast forward to October 2019 when Fiona stood in line to get free dental care offered by a dental team from Arizona who set up a mobile dental clinic for several days in the area. The team was able to fix Fiona’s tooth so it looked like the rest. They saw her two days later and she was smiling from ear to ear. “I still cannot believe it!” she said. “This is a miracle for me.”
Everyone’s Responsibility to Give Back
Dr. Jay M. Bhatt, DDS with Serenity Dental in Gilbert, Arizona, thinks we should all give back to our communities. “I strongly believe it is everyone’s responsibility to give back in whatever capacity they are able, whether giving back involves time, money, or a combination of both,” he says. That’s one reason Dr. Bhatt was part of an 8-person dental team who decided to make the trek to the Masai Mara region in southern Kenya to treat the Masai people – many of whom were in a lot of pain – and desperately needed dental care.
Serenity Dental Opens in Economic Downturn
At Serenity Dental, Dr. Bhatt offers a full range of cosmetic, restorative, and general dentistry services for adults and children, with an emphasis on sound, preventative dentistry. Dr. Bhatt opened his practice in 2007 and was an associate for two years prior. After the economic downturn in 2007-2008, he was one of the few dentists in the area who survived. He now has one associate (Dr. Anil Nutakki), three front office staff, three hygienists, two assistants, and his wife Alice is the office manager to round out his team to 11.
African Safari Sparks Idea for Dental Mission Trip
Dr. Bhatt heard about the opportunity to be part of a dental team to treat the Masai people from his hygienist Jody Hardwick. Jody and her husband Jim had bought a safari trip to Africa at an Up with People auction and traveled to Kenya on vacation in 2018. While on safari with the Basecamp Foundation (BasecampFoundationUSA.org), they visited a school and medical clinic. They found out there were no nearby dental services and the costs were prohibitive. “It was our team’s obligation and joy to figure out how to provide treatment for what we considered to be one of the most primary of human needs,” says Jody.
He Knew He Had to Help
A year later, they brought a dental team back, with input and support from the Basecamp Foundation who works to ensure the survival of wildlife and the advancement of the Masai people in the Masai Mara land. The team stayed at a Basecamp facility during the trip and organized four dental treatment days – two days each at two locations. The trip was actually 10 days: two days to get there, one day to set up, four clinic days, two days safari, and two days to get back. “After hearing and seeing what Jody experienced, I knew I had to help,” says Dr. Bhatt.
Team of 8 Builds Everything from Scratch
Two dentists, two hygienists, two assistants and two support staff from the Phoenix area made up the team. They raised $20,000 for supplies, equipment, and expenses to support their trip. Burkhart and others donated supplies. “We are grateful for their support,” says Jody.
They traveled together to Kenya, carrying 25 bags of dental equipment and supplies to set up a mobile clinic in the Masai Mara. They brought everything and built from the ground up: four dental chairs, two generators, pressure cookers for sterilization, and rented an x-ray machine and computer.
191 Patients & 258 Procedures
The team set up a clinic in a building with a tent cover for two days in two locations. During the four clinic days, they saw 191 patients and performed 258 procedures including extractions, fillings, and cleanings, or as the Masai call it, “washing the teeth” – all at no charge. “Our top priority was to get people out of pain,” said Jody.
Clinic Results by the Numbers
Partical Root Canal
One auto-immune or systemic diagnosis and physician referral recommended.
One facial tumor examined and x-ray taken. Physician referral recommended.
Written by Denise Ploof
Photos by Serenity Dental & Jody Hardwick
Published in Catalyst – Spring/Summer 2020.
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