Uganda Dentistry looking glass: ‘Mouth is mirror to body’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/11/uganda-dentistry-looking-glass-mouth-is-mirror-to-body/
By Patty Huston-Holm
Bad breath could indicate a digestive problem. A burning tongue might be sign of anaemia. Bleeding gums point to possible vitamin deficiencies. A yellow gum lining may mean liver or kidney issues.
Sitting in his small office within a building of the Mengo Hospital/Uganda Christian University (UCU) School of Medicine, Dr. Arabat Kasangaki patiently ticked off the “swelling, sores, discoloration” aspects of understanding the bigger picture of a dentist’s job.
“The mouth is a mirror to the body,” he said. “Mostly, you hear the word ‘cavity,’ which is considered one of the biggest problems worldwide, but the best dentists know and provide much more.”
Just moments before and in the sunshine within the Kampala, Uganda, medical complex, the 59-year-old dentist and teacher extolled the virtues of chemistry related to dentistry to one of his students.
“If you don’t understand much of the basic sciences, you won’t be a good dentist and risk being a mechanic who sees the tooth as a patient instead of the whole human being,” Kasangaki asserted in response to the student’s push back on that course. “You must learn and understand the sciences and their applications.”
At the same time, dentists need to be dentists. In Uganda, many dentists, particularly in rural areas, step out of their role to do general medical practitioner tasks, but those medical practices are malpractices. The job of a dentist is “confined to the mouth, face and neck” and to alert patients and their doctors to symptoms of problems in other parts of the body based on what is observed in their region of operation, he said.
The status of health care, including dentistry, is bleak in developing countries like Uganda. Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Uganda, has 12% of the world’s population but only 3.5% of the world’s healthcare workforce. According to Kasangaki, there is less than one dentist for every 140,000 of Uganda’s some 40 million people.
“In the United States, there is a high saturation of dentists and the population there has a high awareness of the value of oral health,” he said. “Here in Uganda, people aren’t aware of the importance of good dental practices. When they do come, they are often at the emergency stage and are afraid.”
The dentistry deficiencies of his country – something he sees firsthand – drive Kasangaki to not only teach well the next generation of dentists but to develop a dentistry building to house clinics and labs as part of a strategic plan for a UCU SoM Dental School. In August, he submitted an approximately $3 million dental school infrastructural plan to UCU’s planning department as well as to the American architect who has designed many of the UCU buildings.
“We need simulators for the pre-clinical training of students and dental lab equipment plus other technology in a student-dedicated dental clinic,” he said. “We need to be able to attract, retain and train the best.”
Makerere University, which has had a dentistry program for nearly three decades and where Kasangaki, who doubles as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and pedodontist, has taught, is the biggest competitor. The program there is good, but the Christian aspect of UCU makes it better with emphasis on “the compassionate worker.”
Despite his busy schedule of teaching, practicing and developing a quality dental program at UCU, Dr. Kasangaki is keenly aware that his work and his mission are directed by God and that his accomplishments are to His glory. A name badge on his desk is from a Monday men’s group Bible study that he seldom misses.
At one point in life, he wanted to be a pastor. At another point, he thought he would be an engineer or a medical doctor. Despite his humble upbringing as one of 10 children in his family living the Kyegegwa western Uganda region, he had international education and practical experience opportunities. He has studied, taught and practiced in the Soviet Union, China and South Africa, acquiring English, Swahili, Russian and Chinese languages along the way. He came to realize that a life for Christ takes many forms.
Among his most memorable service in dentistry was a man who arrived with a deformed face – “sort like he had two heads” – and who “had been written off.” Dr. Kasangaki was able to do surgery to fix the jaw and repair the deformity. The dentist attributes God for his abilities and the teachings of Jesus for his compassion to help.
In August of 2019, the UCU School of Medicine accepted its second round of new students. The total admitted is 120 with approximately 15% being dentistry students. The number seems small, but Dr. Kasangaki sees it as a place to start in a quality way.
“A Christian university is the best place for that growth to happen,” he said.
To support the Uganda Christian University School of Medicine or other programs, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at email@example.com.