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Smiles on the Safari

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Expanding his horizons while widening the smiles of hundreds, Sequim dentist Dr. Gary Lange journeyed this August to Masai Mara, Kenya, continuing his string of travels around the world.

In the past year-and-a-half, he's aided people with free dental work in Kashmir and Nepal.

Visiting Kenya for two weeks, Lange and his fiancée Sandee Elmer went to a clinic in southwestern Kenya that was established by Ray and Gail Damazo from Bellevue.

The Masai Dental Clinic is staffed by visiting dentists and supported by native staff.

Through sponsorship by several Rotary clubs, including the Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club, the clinic was built with three dental chairs and up-to-date equipment.

"It's as modern as you can get," Lange said.

"It's a beautiful facility."

He performed standard operations such as fillings and went beyond his usual routine with root canals and removal of molars.

"I did a lot of surgery that I haven't done for a while," Lange said.

"It went really smooth."

Teeth degeneration was common among the people Lange examined, but he found every person had his or her lower two interior teeth removed.

Lange said children at age 5 or 6 have their tooth buds cut out so medicines can be inserted more easily if their mouths cannot be opened.

He was told many traditions are being abolished, such as female circumcision, because women are not interested in living in that culture anymore.

The Maasai are a herding group where men care for the animals and women perform all manual labor, cooking and caring for children.

Lange said women rebuild their homes at least every five years and he saw several carry 20 liters of water on their heads in pots.



Glistening results

The Maasai people welcomed Lange's long-time companion, Flat Stanley, a miniature paper man used as a visual aid on how to brush one's teeth.

"Kids all over the world love to get their picture taken with Flat Stanley," Lange said.

"He's an icebreaker here and there."

The convenience of a toothbrush wasn't readily available as it is here in the states, so Lange encouraged people to use what natives call the "toothbrush tree."

Locals take a branch, chew off the bark and soften the tip to brush.

While promoting grassroots dentistry, Lange encouraged people to visit the clinic but because a nearby school was not in session, he didn't treat as many people as he would have liked.

"The dentist who came two weeks after us was swamped with people," he said.

"Even if I was a little disappointed, it paid off later because they began to trust us."



Travels

Lange and Elmer would work five days and then receive one day off for safari.

Elmer, a special education teacher, was trained beforehand how to polish and remove plaque in basic hygienist work.

"When Sandee finished, they were smiling," Lange said.

"People sure loved to see their teeth shining."

The couple saw several safari sites such as a three-mile herd of wildebeests, lions feeding and giraffes.

Lange's highlight was attending a church service

where he ate food and convers-ed with his dental assistant's family and congregation.

"It was getting to the core of the people," he said.

The couple is considering future dental outreach trips to Vietnam and Guatemala following their wedding next summer.



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.



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