One student’s dream to promote dental literacy in Africa

By Maxy Magella Abenaitwe

We may never truly get over a loss, but we can move forward and evolve from it. 

Diana Hilda Ayikoru, a third-year School of Dentisty student at Uganda Christian University (UCU), unveils a transformation story shaped by a loss in 2014. Two years after the death of her devoted, caring mother, Ayikoru realized that one must have a unique reason to live in a remarkable style that adds value to society. 

“Mother’s death opened my mind to understand that there is more to life than just a tedious routine,” she said.

Much as her mom’s death remains a sad occurrence, it unwrapped a new chapter for a daughter – one filled with bigger visions, self-determined decisions, and dental literacy. One of the big vision, independent decisions she made was a career path in dental health. Between her mom and  Dr. Aisha Bataringaya, a Ugandan orthodontist, Ayikoru felt pulled to learn more about dentistry. 

“There is more to dental health than just a daily brushing routine and plucking out of spoilt teeth like most Africans think,” she said, adding that the lack of access to dental information and facilities contributes to African dental illiteracy. Ayikoru’s dream is to promote good oral hygiene. 

 “Sometimes I look at someone’s teeth and feel something could have been done to save them by just creating awareness,” she said. “One can help improve oral health since dental complications can be bound or even handled before conditions worsen.”

Ayikoru says lack of dental awareness in Africa affects both the rich and poor.  Those with money for dental wellness and dental work often end up with complications because of inadequate equipment or untrained dentists. 

Ayikoru is glad she is studying dentistry at UCU.  In addition to a drive from the tragedy of her mother’s death, her decision to join UCU was influenced by some UCU alumni who told her that the University has great courses. 

“The kind of course units we study such as Christian Ethics and World Views have helped paint a picture of how best my dental sensitization dream will work,” she said. “Some of my friends in other institutions envy me especially when it comes to the student-lecturer relationship for my course. UCU lecturers know their students individually.” 

UCU started the School of Medicine with medicine and dentistry in 2018 to address the problem of smaller numbers of dentists and medical practitioners in Uganda. In 2020, UCU pulled dentistry out as its own faculty – School of Dentistry – to further accentuate the importance of dental health. The Ugandan government COVID-19 lockdown has slowed Ayikoru’s work toward becoming a dentist as she and eight of her classmates, who are the pioneers of dental surgery at UCU, were supposed to be doing year three practicals by now. 

Ayikoru’s peers are supportive of her aspirations. One, Rodney Wamala, describes her as a “lively, graceful and hardworking woman.”  Another, David Magara, echoes accolades, nothing that Ayikoru “is very inquisitive in class, asks excellent questions to teachers and always sits at the front.” 

“I am excited to feel the touch of dental equipment and have hands-on experience with patients in the training hospital,” Ayikoru remarks. “It’s interesting to be at the hospital and gain exposure to patients even before one can officially start work. It ignites the energy and zeal to work harder.” 

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