88-Year-Old Samburu Woman Sees a Dentist for the First Time

For some, taking care of their teeth is simply a case of heading over to the local dentist for a check-up, a bit of discomfort and to perhaps endure a filling, if necessary. 

For others it’s not so easy. There are parts of Africa where people will go their entire lives without even seeing a dentist, and struggle for years with painful oral conditions. One such place is the Westgate Samburu Community in north-central Kenya.

Until recently, that is.

Last month, the first-ever mobile dental clinic in Kenya moved into the Samburu community and set up a station at the local school. Here, a team of dentists, nurses, midwifes and support staff from the UK charity SmileStar treated over 300 dental patients for all sorts of issues ranging from tooth ache to cavities and many other oral ailments.

A Samburu warrior gets his dental check up in the Westgate Samburu Community, Kenya. Photo by Ali Allport

The oldest patient treated was 88 years old and had two very painful teeth removed, leaving her grinning like a lion when she was done in the dental chair. In total, there were 500 teeth extracted from patients, keeping everyone busy for the full week.

“I’ve never seen people so keen to sit in a dental chair and have their teeth removed,” said Ali Allport, conservation and community manager for The Safari Collection, who managed the project on the ground.

Samburu dental clinic
The oldest patient treated: 88 years old and happy to be free of the terrible toothache. Photo by Ali Allport

Other than attending to teeth, the team also found a number of other medical ailments that needed attention, including removing a splinter from a warrior’s eye and attending to a boy with blocked lachrymal glands who was struggling to see.

The clinic plans to return to the community armed with more doctors and equipment that will be able to help with a range of medical problems in the future.

Samburu dental clinic
Happy smiling patient. The Samburu welcomed the dental assistance with open arms. Photo by Ali Allport

Dentists for conservation

Part of the objective of the project was to communicate with the Samburu about the importance of wildlife conservation in the area. A strong, healthy and educated community is essential to the efforts of conservation organisation Ewaso Lions. Founded by Shivani Bhalla, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Ewaso Lions runs innovate community outreach programs in Kenya. Ewaso warrior Yesalai was present on all the days to chat to the Samburu about lions and the economic benefits they bring to the community.

Project partner Ewaso Lions, Founded by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Shivani Bhalla, was on hand to talk to the community about the importance of lions conservation in Kenya. Photo by Ali Allport

“Our goal through our projects is to encourage communities to embrace conservation and help them see wildlife as an advantage and not a threat,” says Allport.

It was with bright smiling teeth that the kids and adults of the Westgate Community thanked the SmileStar team and everyone else involved in the project, and also perhaps some hard proof that dentists aren’t too terrifying after all.

Many toothbrushes were distributed to children in the community, as well as instructions on how to use the brushes effectively. Photo by Ali Allport
Many toothbrushes were distributed to children in the community, as well as instructions on how to use the brushes effectively. Photo by Ali Allport

To support this event next year or for more information on helping with other projects please contact Alison Allport (ali@thesafaricollection.com).

Also contact EWASO LIONSSMILESTAR  and the KENYA WILDLIFE TRUST for more information.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram