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Troops bring smiles to Djiboutian children

By | | December 4, 2003

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"When you're teeth hurt, you're just not happy," said Army Spc. Becky L. Howett, a dental technician with the 520th Medical Company from Fort Lewis, Wash.

To help spread a little happiness at Dorale School here, a group of service members from the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa handed out toothbrushes and shared oral hygiene tips with the students.

Nearly 200 toothbrushes, provided to the CJTF-HOA Civil Affairs Section by the U.S. Embassy here, were given to youngsters at the school.

"Most of the time the kids don't clean their own teeth," stated Abdoulkoder Iman Adeu, the school's director. "The parents and teachers have to force them to clean their teeth."

According to Adeu, a visit to the dentist is very rare and only the rich can afford the trip.

"There are no dentists in the village, so you have to travel far to get to one. One visit costs about forty dollars, and most families live on only about one dollar a day," he explained.

Most Djiboutians clean their teeth using a specially-designed stick, aiday. Gnawing on aiday is believed to help curb tooth decay.

Howett, of Morgan City, La., commented, "Considering what they (the children) use for their teeth, their oral hygiene is not bad."

Howett and Army Capt. Tyler Ingersoll, a dentist from MEDDAC (Army Medical Department) at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, spoke with and presented toothbrushes to two groups of students.

After the toothbrushes were handed out, many of the children did not understand how to operate them, but following some instruction, the youngsters began practicing proper tooth-brushing techniques.

"It seems that the girls care more for their teeth than the boys do," said Adeu. "I think it's because they spend a lot more time around the mothers, and the women usually care more about that kind of stuff.

"We really appreciate what the American forces have done so far because, this is the first time we've been given any medical supplies."

Howett added, "I really enjoyed interacting with the children because I feel really great being able to help. If these kids have healthy teeth, they'll want to smile, and that is very fulfilling."

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