Mich. dentist to make Uganda his new home

2013 07 19 09 40 33 821 2013 07 19 Shinska 200

For Ryan Shinska, DDS, moving to Uganda to provide dental care for the poor is a matter of putting his Christian faith into action. The young dentist will work in a clinic in Jinja, where most of the residents have never seen a toothbrush, never mind a dentist.

On his second trip there five months ago, Dr. Shinska saw a boy trying to clean his teeth with twine.

"Toothbrushes are kind of a foreign thing," he told DrBicuspid.com. "Lots of people there are walking around in a lot of pain because there's no access to care. They try to take out teeth and leave the roots in. It's pretty common. But I have the tools and resources to do something about it."

Dr. Shinska treats a young Ugandan boy.Dr. Shinska treats a young Ugandan boy.
Dr. Shinska treats a young Ugandan boy.

Now he's going back again -- this time to stay. Dr. Shinska leaves next week to work in Hope Smiles Uganda, a clinic in Jinja, a large town on the shores of Lake Victoria in the landlocked, central African country.

"It's indefinite," he said. "It could be two or three years; it could be 20 or 30 years. I'm taking it one step at a time and see what God does with it."

Dr. Shinska's Christian faith plays a big part in the way he wants to live his life and use his training.

"I definitely believe in Christ; he's the reason I get up every morning," he said. "Because of the blessings and education I've been given, this makes sense -- to serve the poorest of the poor, those who wouldn't get treated otherwise."

“Because of the blessings and education I've been given, this makes sense.”
— Ryan Shinska, DDS

Dr. Shinska, 30, who graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 2010, traveled to Uganda last year with a team of dentists as a part of an outreach program to provide oral care to children and educate them about dental hygiene.

"I wanted to go on a mission trip, see the world, and help people," he said.

Since he graduated, Dr. Shinska has worked at a clinic serving poor kids in Baton Rouge, LA. He also did an outreach trip to Kenya during dental school, but it was two missions to Uganda with a group called Amazima ("truth" in Ugandan) Ministries that cemented his path.

He speaks "bare bones" Ugandan, but he'll have translators. The official language is English, but the kids can't speak it, Dr. Shinska explained. There are a handful of Westerners there, and everyone he knows is a missionary.

His new mission: to connect with communities throughout the country and enable Ugandans to provide oral healthcare services to their own communities. "It's about empowering people," Dr. Shinska said.

Ultimately, Dr. Shinska hopes to create a dental school to train Ugandans. The country has one dental school in Kampala, the capital city.

Although Jinja has a Ugandan dentist, most residents can't afford to go there. "People with money get care," he said.

Dr. Shinska will work with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and ministries to care for the children. He has successfully raised more than the original $50,000 needed to get his project off the ground.

"It's super important to understand the culture and learn the value systems so I can effectively reach the community," he noted.

Uganda seems safe, unlike the strife and unrest that plague many African countries, Dr. Shinska said.

"I won't be going out at night to clubs or anything," he laughed. "But I feel safer during the day in Uganda than I did coaching football at night in Baton Rouge. It's definitely not suburban America with picket fences, but it's not Rwanda or the war zone it's made out to be."

His parents are a bit worried about their son going so far away.

"I have good parents -- they're very supportive and I definitely have their blessings," Dr. Shinska said. "They're a little worried about their kid, but you gotta live life by what you feel in your heart."

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