College student from Ashton travels to Africa for dental mission trip

ASHTON — During Suzanna Johnson’s dental mission trip to Africa, she had to start with the very basics – teaching children how to use a toothbrush.

“I had to demonstrate which end of the toothbrush to use because most of the children had no idea what a toothbrush even was,” Johnson said. “I handed them out and was showing them. They were just amazed.”

Johnson, of Ashton, returned on March 16 from a two-week-long trip with Global Dental Relief to the Kikuyu Hospital Dental Clinic near Nairobi, Kenya, providing free dental care.

While the 19-year-old freshman at Baker College of Cadillac is currently just taking pre-requisite classes, she plans to become an oral surgeon.

Johnson was one of three volunteers who were not dental certified, working along with five certified dentists or dental assistants and two group leaders. Although Johnson began the trip without any hands-on patient experience, that soon changed.

“I began assisting a dentist named Sarah, who was so patient with me, and taught me about the instruments to use,” Johnson said. “She allowed me to clean teeth and help conduct exams with her. It gave me a whole different mindset of actually being a dentist or a dental assistant.”

The clinic provided fillings for cavities, sealants, teeth extractions or simple cleanings with fluoride. Throughout four days of the clinic, 678 children received dental work. The main goal is to provide education on oral health, since it is not common practice there, Johnson said.

Although there were challenges, such as multiple power and water outages, the work was worth doing, Johnson said.

“Talking and working with the children was the best part of the trip,” she said. “They were incredible and so willing to learn. I’m now thinking about becoming a pediatric oral surgeon.”

Connecting with the children was easy for Johnson, as she was the youngest person on the trip. The next closest person to her age was 38.

“The kids were so sweet and funny,” Johnson smiled. “They sang Beyonce to me and danced.”

Once clinic days were done, the group learned about local culture, going on safaris and sightseeing.

Johnson plans to go on another dental mission trip with Global Dental Relief next year, this time traveling to India.

“This trip made me much more certain about what I want to do in becoming an oral surgeon,” Johnson said. “I will never forget the experience gained in Kenya.”