Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette's campus. Learn more through the links below.
IN BRIEF Marquette Research IN BRIEF Tanzanian refugees receive dental education from a camp health care worker. ON A MISSION TO IMPROVE REFUGEE DENTAL CARE When Dr. Toni Roucka first arrived at the Tanzanian refugee camp, she found a 1920s dental chair in the corner of a dark room. There was no running water, no dental X-ray equipment and very little space to set up instruments. The floor was a muddy mess. More than 50,000 refugees living in the Mtabila and Nyarugusu camps in the Kigoma region of Tanzania receive dental treatment — primarily tooth extractions — in these conditions, typically delivered by health care providers with no formal dental training. “When you look at the big picture — food, safety, shelter — dental care is a low priority, but it is a quality of life issue,” says Roucka, an assistant professor of general dentistry in Marquette’s School of Dentistry whose research on refugee dental care was published last year in the International Dental Journal. Improving dental care for underserved populations is a passion for Roucka. She first traveled to Tanzania with three other 22 Discover dentists in 2007 to establish small dental clinics at the refugee camps and to provide a two-week training course in emergency dental care and health promotion to 12 refugee health care workers. Through lectures and clinical training, the dentists taught refugee workers how to do basic exams and triage procedures, administer anesthesia, manage infections, and prioritize treatments while also stressing the importance of patient management and oral health education. This model for providing access to dental care in refugee camps is the first of its kind, according to Roucka. The focus of the trip was training. Roucka’s research looked at whether this kind of training was self-sustaining, portable and repeatable. She returned to the camps in 2008 to evaluate the progress of the health care workers since the first training and to provide a two-week refresher course. In 2009, she returned once more to evaluate the program’s success. “The biggest concern we had was that many patients might return to the dental clinic with post-operative complications after treatment,” she says. “What we found was the students followed our instructions to the T.” In fact, of the nearly 2,000 patient visits recorded at the clinics from November 2007 to August 2009, fewer than one percent returned with pain, swelling or bleeding — proving to Roucka that the model works. Next, she hopes to return to Tanzania to monitor the long-term progress of the program and then introduce it with a camp population in another cultural environment. She will also continue to provide care in the Dominican Republic and other nations through Compassionate Dental Care International, a nonprofit agency she founded in 2005 to deliver dental care to those in need. — ALB