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The City Journals

Murray dentist leads medical mission to Morocco

May 23, 2019 03:36PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray dentist Andrew Hutchison (far left) saw patients line up 800 deep at his medical tent. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Hutchison)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Ask most dentists what they would do with two weeks off work, and many would likely be out golfing, swooshing down ski slopes, or just relaxing by a hotel pool. But not so for dentist Andrew Hutchison. The born and raised Murrayite recently spent over two weeks in Morocco, seeing patients in a country where there are over 7,000 people per dentist.

Tata, Morocco, is a world away from White Pine Dental (597 W. 5300 South), Hutchison’s practice in Murray. The people who live there are far less affluent than the Murray patients who see him regularly. According to Morocco’s Ministry of Health, in 2012, 60 to 90 percent of Moroccan children suffer from oral diseases. The risk of tooth decay is 82 percent by age 12 and 92 percent for those between 35 and 44 years of age.

“I was asked to participate in a large, multi-branch military exercise in Morocco in March called African Lion,” said the Murray High graduate and captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. African Lion is an annually scheduled, bilateral, U.S. and Moroccan sponsored exercise that involved various types of training, including military readiness, peacekeeping operations, as well as medical and dental assistance projects.

“We set up a large compound of medical tents in a dusty field, much like the TV show ‘M*A*S*H.’ Citizens of the local and neighboring towns would arrive as early as 3 a.m., and by the time we arrived at 7 a.m. (a seven-hour bus ride from the nearest city), the line was many times 800 people deep,” noted Hutchison. “For two weeks we triaged patients and sent them to get different types of treatment, ranging from dental, optometry, pharmacy, and surgery. Our group was about 160 National Guard and Air Force Reserve members, most of them from Utah.”

Morocco sits on the northwest edge of Africa, with coastlines bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. A third of its population work in rural agriculture. Hutchison had to prepare by not only getting the right visas and vaccines necessary but also by being trained for the oral conditions he would encounter there. Additionally, he had to make sure his patients in Murray would be taken care of while he was away.

“It was a very rigorous schedule every day. It wasn’t a vacation, and we didn’t get much time to see any sights. We had rudimentary dental instruments, and all day long we were in a hot and dusty tent. We had all ages of patients, from kids to the elderly,” Hutchison said. “Many people had abscessed teeth and had been dealing with pain for many years. We didn’t have chairs for ourselves, so we had to stand all day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., without breaks, taking teeth out. It was very grueling for 10 straight days.” 

Hutchison also had to deal with multiple language barriers. Morocco not only has the official languages of Arabic and French, but it has many different local dialects. Translators had to communicate to the dentist, and vice versa, all while the patients were having a tooth removed.

“By the end of the two weeks, we could all say things like ‘open, close, how are you, nice to meet you, does it hurt,’ in Arabic and that helped,” Hutchison said.

Throughout his experience, Hutchison appreciated the people of Morocco and the patients he worked on. 

“They would sit and wait from early in the morning and then all day in the hot sun just for the chance to get a tooth extracted. They were so kind, and we received many warm hugs and kind words. The people were very appreciative and kind, and most people usually hate the dentist!”