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Grinning with gratitude after years of pain

Story and Photos by Lobitos de Jesus Alves

Atauro Islanders smile again after visiting German dentist flies in with MAF to bring relief from suffering.

Imagine being tormented by constant toothache for years, but living on an island with no dentist. When experiencing tooth pain, many islanders seek temporary pain relief, but the only route to treatment is a sea crossing to the capital Dili.

But German dentist and maxillofacial surgeon Walter Plett was able to change lives when he was flown to the island by MAF pilot Jan Klassen.

David Perreira, a sailor from Makili, located in the south-eastern part of Atauro Island, walked six kilometres to reach the health centre in Villa Maumeta, the island’s capital in the eastern region, to access dental treatment.

“I have been struggling with this toothache for many years. I had planned to get treatment in Dili, but I have heard that a dentist from Germany will come to Atauro, so I walked this morning to get treatment in healthcare centre in Vila Maumeta,” said Mr Pereira.

“The German dentist’s visit has been helpful to me because I no longer need to spend money and time traveling to Dili. After the treatment, I now feel relief from tooth pain.”

Dano Pinto de Sousa, the director at Atauro Health Centre, said the specialist care made a big difference to people’s lives.

“The presence of the German dentist plays a crucial role in aiding our people who have been struggling with dental health issues for many years,” said Dr Sousa.

“Despite the absence of a dentist on our island, this kind of special treatment really means a lot for us, particularly for our people who have long struggled with dental issues.”

Sergio Diogo de Sousa Araujo, a local fisherman from Atauro Island, explained what it meant to get a dental appointment in his community.

“I have suffered toothache for nearly a year, and it is incredibly challenging for me as it hinders my daily work out at sea,” said Mr Araujo.

“I had planned to travel to Dili for dental treatment, but having a visiting dentist here on the island has provided me with the relief I need from tooth pain, and now I feel no pain anymore.”

Dr Plett, who first visited the island with MAF to carry out treatment last year, said there was a big need for dentistry.

“I’m glad to be back here in Timor-Leste, and it’s my second time visiting and doing a health mission for the people on Atauro Island,” said Dr Plett.

“I was invited by a friend, Jan Klassen, who is a pilot in MAF serving this country. Since my first arrival, I have observed that so many people are suffering from tooth pain, and there is no specialist dentist in this health centre on the island to assist them.

“I saw people were enthusiastic about getting dental treatment, and we had about 60 patients during the three-day treatment, and 153 teeth in total were removed." Dr Plett said he felt at home on Atauro Island.

“Atauro is one of the most beautiful islands I have ever seen, consisting of many surprises, lovely people and a lot of joy,” he added. “The people are very nice and welcoming.” 



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