To Save a Tooth

By Stephanie 

In some ways living in a medical community in rural Burundi can mean minor medical problems get diagnosed much faster then they would in the US. If you see a new rash on your child's arm you can just run over to your neighbor the pediatrician, or if you’re having persistent abdominal pain your teammate, the ER doc, can do an ultrasound on you in the comfort of your own living room. But one area of medical care that we have no resources for here in Burundi is dental care. We have had dentists interested in joining our team, but reality is that routine dental care is beyond the financial ability of the average Burundian. Here in Kibuye when patients have a tooth abscess the medical care that they receive is getting their tooth pulled, usually being unwilling to pay the less than $3 to have the area numbed first. 

In mid September our 10 year old son began complaining of tooth pain. He’s never had a cavity and saw the dentist in the US this summer, so we assumed that his pain was related to a new tooth coming in and pushing on his other teeth. However, as the week progressed so did our son’s pain, to the point that he wasn’t getting any sleep and we had him on ibuprofen and tylenol around the clock. Then he started being lethargic, staying in bed all Saturday while his friends ran around the compound. By evening he had a fever despite the tylenol. We also noticed that one of his adult teeth had become wiggly.

We went to Saturday family worship with our team and asked for prayer. After the service a teammate offered the name of a dentist in the US, Dr. Hank Willis, who has willingly consulted on their dental questions in the past. We e-mailed him right away and immediately received a response. We sent him some pictures and he asked us some questions. Our son didn’t seem to have pain when we pressed above his teeth and in fact we weren’t even exactly sure which tooth was having the problem.  One of the questions Dr Willis asked was about reconstructive work to our son’s teeth. We missed that question at first as we answered others, but then realized that our son had had a chip to his left lateral incisor fixed this summer. Could that be the problem? The chip was the result of a fall 2.5 years ago. Dr Willis told us the tooth was probably necrotic and our son would need a root canal. He was even kind enough to offer to do the root canal for us …. if we wouldn’t mind flying to Idaho.  
                                                                                                                               Dr. Hank Willis

This threw us into high gear. Where could we go in East Africa to get a dental opinion we could trust and the level of care we wanted for our son? We had heard that there was a Canadian dentist who was setting up an office in Kigali, Rwanda. But we weren’t sure if his practice was open yet. Was he in Rwanda or Canada at this time? How do we get in touch with him on a Saturday night in order to arrange to travel ASAP? Well, we turned to another team friend and missionary in Gabon, Dr. Drew Huang. Drew is one of those guys who knows everyone! We gave him a call and sure enough he had the private e-mail address of the Canadian dentist in Rwanda, Dr Jesse Wong. We e-mailed Dr Wong and started our son on oral antibiotics. 

Early the next morning we received an e-mail back from Dr. Wong. He was indeed in Rwanda and could see us at 8am Tuesday morning. We booked airline tickets for two, a hotel, arranged transport, then borrowed Rwandan money and SIM cards from teammates. We also hunted down our passports which were in the capitol for visa renewal.  As we arranged all this our son was back out playing with friends, only occasionally complaining of pain. Had we not consulted Dr. Willis we probably would have believed that the antibiotics were taking care of the issue and stayed put in Kibuye. 

Monday we began our journey to the dentist with a 3 hour car ride to the capitol where we were able to find the correct office, wait for someone to arrive, and pick up our passports. We then flew to Kigali. And as is typical with African travel, the airport visa line was long, our hotel driver was not there to pick us up, our SIM card did not work…. but we sorted things out and got to our hotel.

Tuesday morning we went to the office of Dr. Wong at DMC Dental. The clinic was 
clean and modern, even having a TV mounted in the ceiling for our son to watch as they worked on his tooth. Dr. Wong was quick to see the issue on x-ray, a large infection above the tooth that had been chipped in the fall years ago. The infection was so large that Dr. Wong left the hole in the tooth open to drain overnight. Our poor boy spent the rest of the day spitting out draining puss and watching The Peanuts Movie in our hotel room. On Wednesday morning we returned to DMC Dental where Dr. Wong cleaned out the tooth again. He really wanted to finish the root canal for us then, but there was still too much drainage from the infection. He put medication in the tooth and we will return to Rwanda in November to assess the infection and hopefully finish the root canal.

During this episode our son asked us “What would have happened if I were a Burundian?” So we talked about the lack of pain control that would have been available to an average Burundian boy, the delay in diagnosis because of the cost of a medical consult, and how his adult tooth probably would have been pulled.  Medical care is improving in Burundi, but there is still a long way to go. Events like this make us feel our privilege in being able to access the best medical and dental care for our kids, even if it means traveling to another country. 


Rebekah said...

Praise God for the way He orchestrated all the details to come together to get your son the dental care he needed! God is so good!!

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