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  • Patrick Briscoe, DDS

Restoring Honor

Over the past three years, I have been on four dental mission trips to serve alongside TRN providing essential dental care services in rural, impoverished communities in Rwanda. We partner with local dentists, hoping to educate them on modern dental techniques while sharing the love and message of Jesus Christ. The mission has a dual aim: to offer both physical and spiritual nourishment to local communities and dentists. This article outlines my experiences, the challenges faced, the impact of our work, and our hopes for the future.

The dental sector in Rwanda is in its infancy. There are now around 100 dentists serving roughly 13.5 million people. That is a ratio of 1 dentist for every 135,000 individuals. To put that in perspective, the ratio in the USA is 1:1,600. It has been an honor to serve alongside local dentists across Rwanda treating patients together. One of the unique things about my service with TRN in Rwanda has been the collaboration between different organizations. Often, foreign ministry groups operate in separate "silos”, rarely working together. TRN has developed incredible relationships with two dental organizations in Rwanda: His Hands on Africa (HHOA) and Dream Medical Center (DMC). These two organizations have helped lead the dental outreach missions and TRN offers support for evangelism and spiritual discipleship. In addition to dental screenings and emergency care services in rural areas, TRN collaborated with HHOA and DMC last year on a dental conference where 70 dentists and dental therapists came together to learn about various aspects of dentistry. It has truly been a match made in heaven!

These dental mission trips have not been without their challenges. Language is an obvious one. English and French are prominent in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, but in rural areas the primary language is Kinyarwanda. The TRN team does a great job of helping bridge the language gap

by serving as our interpreters in the field. Another enormous challenge has been cultural sensitivity. Understanding cultural nuances has been challenging, but crucial, especially when trying to demonstrate how to treat patients with compassion. I try to approach such discussions with humility and respect, seeking to share rather than impose. The final challenge, which is dental-specific, is the lack of distribution channels that supply the necessary dental equipment and supplies to the country. We are thankful that we can fill that gap and help provide necessary supplies as the local dentists have need so that they can give the best care possible.

Two personal encounters have left a strong impression on my heart. The first is a particularly touching encounter with a young girl named Aisha. She came to one of our outreaches in the South Province with severe tooth pain caused by cavities in her baby teeth. As soon as I saw her I

immediately knew there was more to her story. She was short for her age and had some facial features indicating a genetic issue.  We were able to get an x-ray, which confirmed a rare genetic disorder called cleidocranial dysplasia. The oral manifestations of this disorder are multiple extra teeth and severe impaction of her permanent teeth. Along with the physical manifestations, I could also sense the emotional struggles she felt. As Americans, we are acutely aware that a smile is very powerful. A smile has the ability to calm storms, break ice, and forge personal bonds. In a country that puts a significant value on honor, lacking a smile can quickly put you on the social outskirts of society. Honor was precisely what we set out to restore in Aisha’s story. With the help of missionary dentist Dr. Jesse Wong, we have been able to work through various stages of treatment consisting of fillings, extractions, and surgery to expose her permanent teeth, followed by braces and other appliances to move those teeth into place. We are entering our final stage this coming year, and what has been accomplished in Aisha's life is remarkable. The surgeries and treatments we have facilitated are the first of their kind in the country and would not have been possible without God's provision and our collaboration with Dr. Wong and his incredible team.  

The second personal encounter occurred in a small village community in the eastern province. Fifteen years ago, a water well was installed to support the local community. Unfortunately, there was an extremely high level of fluoride in the water which increased its mineral content to toxic levels and caused fluorosis to run rampant throughout the children in the community. Dental fluorosis causes extreme staining and a decrease in the structural integrity of the teeth, causing the enamel to flake off and increasing the chance of cavities. In addition, bones become brittle and are at an increased risk of fracture. The mission team screened around 700 kids and documented the prevalence of fluorosis in the community, hoping to encourage the construction of a new well in the area. Going forward, this type of information will be valuable to TRN as they continue to develop their water well ministry. 

Moving forward, I hope to help TRN continue to strengthen its relationship with His Hands on Africa and Dream Medical Center. Partnering with these great organizations can help ensure that access to dental care continues to increase and that education for local dentists through a Christ-centered model can continue. Undoubtedly, the demand for dentistry will continue to rise, so recruiting more dentists and increasing the supply chain will be crucial in order to meet the rising demands. Continuing education is another ongoing need and, by creating educational material in partnership with His Hands on Africa, we hope to see that need met. 

My time in Rwanda serving with The Roots Network has been eye-opening, exposing the dire need for dental care and education in rural, impoverished communities. Beyond the physical aid, the spiritual connections forged have added depth and fulfillment to my experience. Any time you travel to a country like Rwanda the natural reaction can be a desire to make a positive impact on the broader culture, but it is individual stories like Aisha’s, where honor is restored, that serve as a testament to TRN’s vision to see lives, communities, and cultures rooted in the love of Christ and transformed by the Gospel. Reflecting on my time in Rwanda, I am reminded of Proverbs 19:17, "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done." I am beyond humbled by this opportunity to serve and am inspired to continue serving with The Roots Network in the future. Thank you for your support.

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