Monthly Archives: October 2013

Building Strong Relationships

imageDalmaira, or Maira for short, is 8 years old. And she’s in pain. From a horribly decayed lower first molar. She’s sat in our chair in our ‘MASH’ tent in El Jebba on a very warm Tuesday morning. I say our chair because I’m working with Amy, a dental therapist, whom I first met and teamed with last year.


The tooth needs to come out. But did I mention that it’s horribly decayed?

Anyway, Amy and I have developed an almost instinctive working relationship. One where we don’t need to prep each other about what to do, or say. We use our very limited pidgeon Arabic. Mix it with some French, Spanish, English and masses of body language, and we can communicate. So that ultimately, a language barrier isn’t a barrier.

We go through breathing techniques with every child we see. We try to make them laugh. And most of the time, we do.


Maira was brilliant. Not once did she flinch let alone get upset. But I couldn’t get her tooth out. It kept crumbling. Again and again. And I was struggling.

Despite Amy’s help, what remained of the tooth was becoming less and less visible. Access was becoming more difficult and even though it was loosening, it wasn’t coming out.


As our team were stopping for lunch, Maira was the only child still being treated. Richard Howarth, one of my dental muckers, came over to help. So did Chris Branfield. Another dentist friend who I met when I came out on my first Dental Maverick trip in 2010.

They both offered advice as to the best instruments to use, as well as the technique. But I wasn’t succeeding. Laura, a nurse had come to help as well by now. And with her and Amy’s help, I drilled the roots to separate them.

And Maira? Well, she was still perfectly ok. Despite the fact that she’d now been in the chair for about 45 minutes.


Eventually, both Richard and Chris suggested that I take a break. I refused. I was tired, but this had become a matter of pride. After another failed attempt, I took stock. I was acting selfishly. Letting my personal pride get in the way of Maira’s welfare. So I asked Chris to take over. He did without hesitation and, shortly after he’d managed to extract the tooth.

When Maira left our ‘MASH’ tent, she was met with a chorus of applause from the rest of our team. And she deserved it. I stayed behind. Feeling a mixture of shame and embarrassment. And as for having my photo taken with her, no chance! Anyway, I did. But only after others’ insistence.


And I wonder why I do this.


But, every year I see at least one child who manages to break through my testosterone impregnated guard. A child who demonstrates a strength of mind and composure that is so wildly unbecoming of their age that it fills me with awe.

Last year, it was Ayesha. This year, Maira. And even though my memory is failing, I’ll never forget them.


This was my third visit with the Dental Mavericks. The ‘WHAT’ we do and the ‘HOW’ we do it are self explanatory. But, if you were to ask any of us ‘WHY’ we do it, I suspect that you’d get several different answers:



‘Helping rid the children of dental pain’,

‘Leaving a worthwhile legacy’,

‘Doing good for others’.


These are just some examples and they’re all equally worthy. In fact, I often use them myself.


But, there is another ‘WHY’. One that I experienced in abundance this last week. And that is ‘Building Strong Relationships’. I consider many of our team to be firm friends. Even the newer Mavericks, as well some of our Moroccan hosts. And that’s priceless.

According to recent research, having close friends you can count on has massive benefits for your physical and mental health. A strong social network can be critical to helping you through the stress of tough times.


I believe that. Last week proved it to me.

Later that day, I thanked Richard and Chris. Not just for helping me but for not pulling rank. I knew that they both wanted me to take a break. Let someone else try. But they weren’t insistent. Just supportive. And the reason for that is because we know each other well. We’ve become friends.


We’ve built strong relationships.