The annual College of General Dentistry Study Day, held on the first Friday in December at Glasgow Science Centre, is always a very stimulating and enjoyable event. It brings together a large number of dental professionals from across Scotland, including all the Vocational Trainees. It is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and also to hear from recent graduates as they start out on their professional journeys.
This year, the MalDent Project team was invited to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture. Robert Craig Caldwell was born in the United States but raised in Millport. He graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1950 and embarked on a career in dentistry that saw him return to America as Dean of the School of Dentistry, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
While there, he introduced the comprehensive patient care programme and encouraged the recruitment of minority and female students so that all segments of the population could be represented in the student body. He also encouraged students to seek advanced training and considered students to be his junior colleagues. After just three years in post Bob died, at the age of 46, of chronic myelogenous leukaemia. His classmates at the University of Glasgow established the Caldwell Memorial Lecture in his memory and it is delivered every year as the final session at the Study Day.
This was a tremendous honour for us. A small group was assembled to present an update on the MalDent Project’s progress and to demonstrate the benefit that collaborations and partnerships are playing in the venture.
We are very grateful to Robbie and Patricia Thomson, key players in the organisation of the Study Day, who had invited our participation. Following highly successful and influential careers in general practice, both are now Clinical Teaching Fellows at Glasgow Dental School, providing students with the benefit of their many years of experience in the profession.
The team comprised Stuart Bassham from Dentaid, Nigel and Vicky Milne from Smileawi, Andrew Paterson representing Bridge2Aid, and myself representing the broader MalDent Project. Stuart had to fly up from near Southampton that morning, but for the rest of us the venue was close to home.
The lectures at the Study Day are delivered in the iMax Theatre at Glasgow Science Centre. This is a large capacity venue, easily capable of holding the 350 delegates at the meeting:
There is always a trade show running in parallel with the rest of the event and we were grateful to the Study Day organisers for providing us with a ‘volunteering’ stand free of charge:
This was a great opportunity for Nigel, Vicky and I to discuss some of the joint projects we’re involved with in Malawi and which we would be talking about during the lecture that afternoon. Later, we were also joined by Andrew.
Stuart arrived from Southampton just in time to enjoy lunch with us, which was a very civilised sit-down meal…
… before we headed off to the iMax Theatre to check through our slides and then back to the trade show ahead of the afternoon lectures:
Just before we were due to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture, awards were presented to a number of Vocational Trainees, including Martin Laird who had been one of the University of Glasgow students who had visited Malawi in 2019 with Smileawi and participated in the pilot child oral health survey, as well as spending some time at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.
The Caldwell Memorial Lecture was introduced by Conor O’Malley. Conor played a pivotal leadership role over many years in developing and building up the Study Day in its original guise as the FGDP Scottish Day, before the FGDP itself was replaced by the College of General Dentistry. Conor has also been a great friend to the Glasgow Dental Alumnus Association, helping to raise large sums of money over the years. It was, therefore, a particular pleasure that he had been chosen to introduce us.
I opened the lecture by describing the background to the MalDent Project. The two initial principal partners were the University of Glasgow and the University of Malawi College of Medicine (now Kamuzu University of Health Sciences) who, in 2018, were jointly awarded a Scottish Government International Development grant of £1.3m over 4.5 years. The principal objectives were to establish a BDS degree programme, the first in Malawi, and to develop an Oral Health Strategy for Malawi through close working with the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders, including the World Health Organisation.
From the outset there were multiple partners across the academic, healthcare, charitable and commercial sectors:
This presentation focused on the role played by three UK charities, Bridge2Aid, Dentaid and Smileawi and the dental supply company Henry Schein, working in collaboration with the two university partners.
The first of these partners to speak was Stuart Bassham, Dentaid’s Workshop Manager:
Dentaid covers multiple functions, both national and overseas, in its portfolio of activities. One of these is the servicing and installation of donated dental equipment and it was this particular skill that it has brought to bear on the MalDent Project. Stuart described to delegates the work that he and his team had done to replace 22 dental chairs and install 12 A-Dec phantom head units in the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital. During both installation visits to Malawi, Henry Schein had provided an engineer, free of charge – Jonathan Langley in 2018 and Chris Cox in 2022. The result of all this work was a transformation of the Dental Department with upgraded equipment, providing a suitable clinical teaching environment for the BDS students, improved working conditions for staff and an enhanced patient experience.
Following Stuart’s talk I spoke briefly about the work that had been undertaken to develop a National Oral Health Policy for Malawi. This took place between February 2020, when an Oral Health Policy Task-force was established, and the launch of the policy on 14th April 2022. Twenty-two meetings were held on-line and there were a small number of face-to-face meetings of the Malawian Task-force members. Attention has now turned to implementation of the policy, and the Study Day provided a wonderful opportunity for Nigel and Vicky Milne, the founders of the charity Smileawi, to tell the audience about the variety of activities their organisation undertakes in Malawi which support the implementation of the new policy:
As a small Scottish charity whose main aim is to help improve oral health services in Malawi, much of the work Smileawi has carried out aligns very closely to the seven pillars of the Oral Health Policy. Key to their operation is providing very important support for the existing dental therapists and by funding many of the student therapists at the Malawi College of Health Sciences. This vital sector of the dental workforce will grow in strength and confidence and be equipped to play a major role in the Oral Health Policy implementation. The joint work of Smileawi with Bridge2Aid, described by the next speaker, provided another example of engagement with dental therapists to strengthen oral disease prevention, a key policy objective.
Bridge2Aid is another key charity partner of the MalDent Project. Andrew Paterson, one of the charity’s trustees, has been involved as a clinician with the successful emergency dentistry task-shifting programme that Bridge2Aid has delivered in Tanzania for over 15 years, and a similar model is planned in Malawi. However, Bridge2Aid, together with Smileawi and other UK and Malawian partners, has also embarked on a programme of community Oral Health Promoter training in Northern Malawi, which again maps onto the Oral Health Policy implementation plan, as Andrew described:
Phase one was a modular course delivered to Northern Malawi dental therapists remotely using the ProDental CPD platform, to upskill their oral health knowledge and to give them teaching skills to cascade key oral health messages to remote and rural areas and to disadvantaged groups. Working with the Malawian Ministry of Health and the Dental Association of Malawi ensured messages were culturally appropriate and community led. Phase two empowered the therapists to use newly acquired teaching skills to cascade train rural Oral Health Promoter volunteers who are now actively engaged in promoting oral health in schools, churches, and other community settings rurally. The course will be run in Central Malawi in 2023 and thereafter Southern Malawi to create a national network of rural Oral Health Promoters.
The presentation finished with my summarising three further ongoing work streams. These were the design and construction of a new dental clinical teaching facility on the Blantyre campus of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, the development of a Malawian version of the Scottish Childsmile programme that would be applicable to the local environment, and a National Child Oral Health Survey planned for 2023:
In closing, I stressed again how important the multi-sectoral collaborations had been to the progress made by the overall project and, finally, thanked the audience for their attention.
Before we all left for the drinks reception, Conor presented the conference secretariat, Andrew Miller and Patricia de Vries, with gifts to thank them for yet another brilliantly organised event. Andrew has been involved with the Study Day for many years and is a great friend to many of us, myself included, so it was very sad to hear that he is retiring from his activities in organising dental meetings to focus on work at his family farm. Andrew will be greatly missed by all in the Scottish dental community and we are grateful for his many years of service.
As is the custom, the event finished with a drinks reception. Nigel is captured here catching up with his friend from University of Glasgow days, Dr Ian Mills, former Dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice …
… and I had opportunity to meet some of the current final year students at Glasgow, who told me how much they were enjoying their outreach dental teaching and looking forward to their turn in VT next year:
It had been an excellent event for all of us. We were very grateful to the organisers of the Study Day for the opportunity to speak to such a large audience about the MalDent Project and welcome any who may be interested in joining us to get in touch.
Many of the photographs in this post were taken by Jason Kimmings, the official photographer for the event. Thanks are due to Jason for kindly granting permission to reproduce his images.