‘Doon the watter’ – MalDent visits Smileawi and its new mobile surgery

The phrase going ‘doon the watter‘ refers to holidays that would be taken by Glaswegians in towns on Scotland’s west coast that were reached by sailing down the River Clyde. The launch of the Clyde’s first steamboat, Henry Bell’s Comet in 1812, made such holidays accessible for many. Dunoon, my destination on Sunday 22nd December, was one of the most popular of these holiday resorts, but the purpose of my visit was not for a Christmas break but to visit my good friends Nigel and Vicky Milne and to view their latest acquisition for the work of their dental charity Smileawi.

I took a train from Glasgow Central to Gourock Station where a CalMac ferry was waiting and shortly due to leave.

In line to board the Argyll Flyer at Gourock

The weather was grey with occasional light drizzle but I stayed up on deck for the 35 minute crossing.

Dunoon just appearing on the horizon

Dunoon’s history as a resort for those holidaying from Glasgow was very evident as the old pier hove into view:

Sail almost over

Once the ferry had docked it was a short walk up the ramp to a welcome from Caledonian MacBrayne …


… and a further very short walk into Dunoon itself, an excellent base for visiting this part of Argyll & Bute, as testified by the sign in the photo below


Nigel picked me up from the ferry terminal and we headed to The Hollies Dental Surgery. Vicky greeted us on arrival and we enjoyed some lovely home-made soup and toast before heading outside for the official viewing.

The mobile dental surgery that has been donated by NHS Highland is a sizeable vehicle, based on a Mercedes Benz truck chassis and engine. It has been sitting in the open-air for a considerable time and requires some mechanical servicing, which will be undertaken by Smileawi Spanners.


Inside the vehicle is an airy, fully-equipped surgery with an adjacent waiting room. The Belmont PRO II dental chair is exactly the same type as we have been installing in the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital – rugged and uncomplicated engineering, which is ideal for the environment in Malawi.

Nigel and Vicky proudly demonstrate Smileawi’s latest acquisition 

At the back of the truck is a hinged compartment which houses a large water tank and the compressor:

There are possibilities of two further mobile dental surgeries from other sources, all of which could be serviced on a regular basis by Smileawi Spanners during their visits to Malawi.

There are a number of logistical, legal and governance issues which need to be worked through, but it is easy to see multiple uses for these vehicles in support of the work of Smileawi, Bridge2Aid and the MalDent Project, in collaboration with the local healthcare teams. In addition to delivery of clinical service, they could support epidemiological surveys and play a part in outreach teaching of dental students in later years of the new BDS programme.

After a shared pot of Mzuzu coffee and mince pies, Nigel drove me back to Dunoon Ferry Terminal for my journey home.


Although only a brief visit, it was great to see Smileawi’s new acquisition and to chat through a number of our plans for moving forward in 2020.

Smileawi is raising money for its Mobile Dental Clinic Fundraiser Appeal at Wonderful.org. If you would like to support their work, you can do so by making a donation here

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