Michael Awua-Mensah – a life in dentistry
We find out a little more about dentistry in Ghana from dentist, Michael Awua-Mensah. He discusses his path into the profession and the current challenges he faces.
Please introduce yourself
Michael Awua-Mensah: I go by the name Michael Awua-Mensah (Dr Awua). I’m a general dentist in Ghana, west Africa.
I had my six-year dental training at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (Kumasi, Ghana).
For the past four years I have been practising dentistry with experience in both the public and private sector.
Why did you first get into dentistry?
Michael Awua-Mensah: Getting into the health sector was always a focus of mine. But I was not too sure of the exact profession to engage in.
I gained admission to an another university to pursue pharmacy. However, after shadowing a few dentists in my country, I knew that dentistry was the place to be.
How difficult was it to qualify as a dentist in Ghana and what was your path to university?
Michael Awua-Mensah: To obtain a license to practice in Ghana, there are two routes.
The first route is through studying at a dental school in Ghana for six years. A two-year internship program follows this where you practice under supervision. All before you receive a permanent license.
However, you should be in good standing with the Medical and Dental Council of Ghana (MDC) before you qualify to practice.
The other route is for foreign-trained dentists. Before granting a license to practise to a foreign-trained dentist, the Medical and Dental Council of Ghana (MDC) must be certain that the dentist has knowledge in the English language, and the professional knowledge and abilities necessary for dental practice in Ghana.
A foreign-trained dentist, must therefore, satisfy the MDC that he or she has the skills, knowledge and abilities of a practitioner by passing the council’s examinations.
I qualified to practice dentistry in Ghana using the former route.
I entered the university in 2010 after my senior high school education. In fact I was amongst the fifth batch of dental students to receive a BSc BDS dental surgery at my university.
Currently, there are only two dental schools in Ghana, namely the School of Medicine and Dentistry of the University of Ghana and the School of Medicine and Dentistry of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST).
There were some challenges in terms of our increasing numbers due to the number of dental chairs and resources back in dental school. However, a lot has changed over the years and things have gradually improved.
Once you graduated, where did you go and how did you grow your profile?
Michael Awua-Mensah: Once I graduated, I practised in the government sector for about two years. I then switched to the private sector to have a feel for how managing a private clinic was like.
I noticed some big differences in terms of the types of treatment, time allotted for each patient, insurance schemes and the types of cases seen.
On the side, I have also taken it upon myself to devise creative ways to inform the general public in Ghana about their oral health. This is through the use of social media platforms, newspaper, radio, television as well as outreaches at various institutions and schools.
Through these, I have been able to grow my profile as a dental practitioner and an advocate for good oral care.
What is oral health like in Ghana?
Michael Awua-Mensah: Dentistry in Ghana received a bad representation over the years. This is due to the lack of awareness and certain oral health myths propagated from generation to generation.
Particular oral conditions encountered in Ghana include dental caries, periodontal diseases, tooth loss and cleft lip and palate.
The average Ghanaian will only visit the dentist when he or she is in pain. To complicate matters, such individuals will apply certain herbal concoctions just to alleviate the symptoms. But these techniques are to no avail.
By the time they visit the dentist, patients’ actions compromise vital tooth tissue with an associating sinus.
Most of them settle for tooth extractions instead of root canal treatments due to financial constraints. As well as the lack of motivation to have their teeth saved after elaborate discussions.
I strongly believe that through constant oral health awareness programs, people with such mindsets will turn a new leaf and change their perception of oral care and dentistry.
How do you deliver dentistry in Ghana and what are your main challenges?
Michael Awua-Mensah: Dentistry in Ghana is delivered in the best possible way. Even though we are not at the cutting-edge of dentistry, we are doing our very best.
In terms of technical competence of the workforce and relevant equipment required to effectively and efficiently carry out procedures, we are up to date. There is a compliance to infection control regulations, adherence to professional standards, early detection and interventions, and standardised care for all – irrespective of social, economic or racial background.
There are public and private dental clinics all over the country. However, the majority are skewed towards the urban areas.
The main challenge is geographical access to dental care.
Another challenge worth mentioning is the high cost involved in operating a practice. Most of the consumables and tools we require are imported from the western world. These high operation costs translate into high costs of treatment.
Consequently, many Ghanaians shy away from routine dental treatment.
What are your plans for the future?
Michael Awua-Mensah: I hope to enter a residency program and own a practice in the future. However, due to inadequate funds currently, I may have to put this dream on hold.
I also plan to branch into academia in order to contribute to the lacking areas of dental research in Ghana and also give back to the community by helping to train more Ghanaian dentists.
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