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January 14, 2007 | General News

Two for teeth: Husband and wife dentists bring smiles to Ghana

BN

Dentists Forrest Farr and Shelia Bryson had never seen patients so eager to have their teeth fixed.

No tears, just smiles of relief.

"A little three-year-old girl needed to have three teeth pulled. She sat on her mother's lap and didn't cry. She was so attentive," said Shelia, who is married to Forrest and works at Smiles Team Dental in Belleville.

The couple, both 32, live in Swansea.

Both saw patients in adjoining rooms during a 10-day visit to Nkwanta, Ghana, in West Africa.

Forrest and Shelia had always wanted to treat patients abroad and got financial and spiritual support from their church, New Life in Christ Interdenominational Church.

"Some people had never been to the dentist. The nearest dentist is seven hours from their village," said Forrest, who works at Affordable Dental in Dupo.

They learned the nation of more than 1 million people has just 23 dentists. Most dentists practice in Accra, the capital.

Together, they treated 85 patients in four days.

"We used a couple of rooms in the hospital and we didn't have dentists' chairs. We had to use folding chairs. Some days we didn't have electricity, so we had to work with flashlights," said Forrest.

Patients didn't seem to mind.

"They didn't fuss about waiting or flinch in the chair," said Shelia.

"Nurses kept their head comfortable when they leaned back. Sometimes. I had to get on my knees and lean over when I worked on children."

With limited facilities, both dentists focused on pulling loose and infected teeth.

"We had no X-ray machines," said Forrest.

Trying to explain the effects of Novocain was tricky.

"Some people had never had an injection. I told them their lip would start to feel fat and would start to feel like it wasn't there."

The residents spoke a variety of Ghanian dialects but also know English. Interpreters helped translate for patients who didn't speak English.

Shelia knew just how much numbing agent to give children.

"For children, you have to give the injections slowly," she said.

Forrest's favorite patient was a young girl named Mercy.

"She was about 7 or 8. I had to pull her four front baby teeth. Her (adult) teeth were coming in but the baby teeth hadn't fallen out. She never cried the whole time."

For Forrest and Shelia, treating patients in Ghana was a time to grow closer as a couple and stronger in their Christian faith.

They relied on what they could see above the gumline as well as the expertise of Dr. Koku, a resident dentist in Ghana.

"We just said a prayer before every patient,' said Shelia.

Both dentists were pleasantly surprised when patients opened their mouths.

"I honestly thought some cases would be worse than they were. With the kids, there is less sugar because they don't have as many candy bars and soda."

Forrest, who is from California, and Shelia, who hails from North Carolina, met in dental school at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

They settled in Swansea to be somewhat centrally located.

"I knew I've wanted to be a dentist since eighth grade," said Forrest. Shelia was interested in a medical career but didn't choose dentistry until college.

"Both of us bring a strength to our practice," said Forrest. "Mine is cosmetic dentistry, things like bridges, crowns and white fillings. Hers are dentures, partials and extractions."

Soon, they'll be working together. Forrest will leave Dupo later this month to work with Shelia in Belleville.

Both look forward to working in the same office, though they'll have separate exam rooms.

"It will definitely be different. We've heard other people talk about working together, but we see it as a good thing. We can help one another and support each other," said Shelia.

At home, both talk about dental procedures and ask the other for medical advice.

Forrest likes to watch football and basketball on TV.

"When it's game time, we're done talking about work," said Shelia, laughing.

They have different personalities.

"He's more laid back. I can be more high strung. I like to get up at 5 a.m. to run, and he'd rather sleep," she said.

Both say daily prayers and talking together keeps their 2 1/2 -year marriage strong and keeps them grounded.

Both would like to return to Ghana in December.

"We're here for a reason," said Shelia. "Rather than just making money, it's our duty. We're here to help people."

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