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Devonte Johnson brings oral health care to Uganda

Courtesy of Charlie Parks

Uganda is considered one of the youngest nations in the world with over half of the population being children. With a population being rich in culture but poor in necessities, there are less than 300 dentists to serve a population of over 33 million. A staggering fact that leaves one dentist per 175,000 people. This economic problem is not only affecting the pearl of Africa but the health of many young children who are deserving of proper health care. If poor oral hygiene goes untreated, it can lead to heart disease, cancer, premature birth and even memory loss. With much at stake, a group of young leaders plans to put an end to this deadly problem by creating a campaign called Smile for Uganda, spearheaded by oral health care advocate Devonte Johnson. Johnson is a Tennessee State University alumnus and a recent graduate of Duke University, where he attained a master’s in biomedical sciences. This 24-year-old Atlanta native’s passion for global health care stemmed from his love for dentistry and people. Johnson shares the impact of this Smile for Uganda initiative and the road to being an advocate for global health care.

Smile for Uganda started back in the summer of 2015, what’s the background story for creating this specific platform?

My church has been traveling to Uganda for many years to provide various types of relief: spiritual, educational and medical. As a candidate for dental school and founder of the Dr.Dental brand, I proposed adding an oral health care component to the already existing program. I felt that providing this care internationally, and educating Americans domestically was vital to extending the awareness of the lack of oral health care in third- world countries. The Smile for Uganda platform allows volunteers to provide oral hygiene tutorials and distribute toothbrushes and toothpaste to local villagers. This one initiative is just the beginning of our Global Smile Campaign platform, which will extend to other countries in the future.

This mission trip is all about providing free dental care and education on hygiene, and you’re someone who aspires to go into dentistry. What are a few things people need to know about dental health care today?

Dental health is extremely important. Dental decay is five times more prevalent than asthma in children. Globally, millions of people suffer from poor dental health, however public health funding is mostly awarded to programs geared toward nutrition, HIV/AIDS awareness, heart disease prevention. Unfortunately, oral health tends to take a back seat, even though 1 out of 3 adults in the United States have untreated dental diseases. The primary causes include the absence of oral health education, lack of dental insurance, and access to care. These numbers as you can imagine are only compounded internationally.

The mouth is reflective of our general health and disease status. Many systemic diseases and infections have oral manifestations. The statistics around citizens battling dental diseases are astounding. Consequences of poor oral hygiene live beyond the dental office. Not only do patients fight health problems, but they also battle with self-esteem issues, social interaction, and even career achievement. As an oral health advocate, it is important to continue to make dental care a priority in our lives as well as focus on our daily nutrition and physical well-being.

As a millennial who is putting their passion and profession together for the greater good, what are three tips you can give fellow millennials who want to start something but not sure how or where to start?

Start today:  As millennials, we are flooded with an abundance of content every day. Don’t get intimidated by social media. Trust your ideas and pursue them wholeheartedly. People will follow.

Be a storyteller. Stories allow you to bring your passions to life in a digestible manner. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a story will give your fans a reason to keep following.

Start with why. Many times we are quick to address “what” we are doing, but people are not drawn to what. The why allows your fans to be captivated by something bigger than themselves.

You used the power of social media to help Smile for Uganda, how do you think social media helps with big visions such as this one?

Social media is the great equalizer. Used correctly, it has allowed me to share my story and connect with tens of thousands of fans and supporters that otherwise may not have ever found me. Social media is more powerful for good than most realize. It is a vehicle, not a destination for the Dr.Dental brand. Shifting my view of social media from a way for me to share, to a tool for me to expand my brand, has led to much more reach and success. Being strategic with the content that I post and when I post it, the way that a brand does and not just a user was important.

What’s the end goal for Smile for Uganda?

The primary goal for the Smile For Uganda campaign is to simply serve those in need.

Secondly, we are using this platform to build awareness. Our goal is to bring oral health to the forefront of public health discussions, and everyday medical discussions within our communities.

Lastly, Smile for Uganda is just the beginning of my global oral health care initiative. The Dr.Dental brand has a three-prong approach — global advocacy being one of them. The Smile Campaign is the platform for our global outreach and will continue to expand to other countries that are plagued by dental disease. We have milestones set in place that we would like to reach, however, the Smile Campaign will definitely be a lifelong journey and project that I am committed to for the long haul.

For more on Smile For Uganda and how you can help, check out: