Wanting to be of help in the aftermath of Cyclone Evan, Elder Roger Roth a dentist from Hayden, Idaho and his wife Sister Julie Roth, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently took their family, some dental supplies and toys to the Church's Magiagi meetinghouse and gave a free clinic to the many young children still sheltered there.
Under the shade of a temporary canopy over the Church’s outdoor basketball court, Elder Roth was the first to see each child.
“Now let me see you brush your teeth!” he says as he opens the packaging of a new toothbrush and hands it to a child. “Great job!” he praises, when the child tries.
This simple procedure allows him to introduce toothbrushes to children who may never have used one before. He also demonstrates proper techniques for effective brushing on all sides of their teeth, on their tongues, and especially near their gums. In most cases, the children are accompanied by their mothers, who also benefit from seeing how the doctor helps the youngest brush their teeth.
“It helps when I use the brush on their own teeth; they get a feel for what it should be like,” he said. It also cleans their teeth for the next step in the day’s dental services: a fluoride varnish.
Samoans have extraordinarily tough teeth, Elder Roth says, but trouble still looms where teeth and gums meet, especially when exposed to soda, chips and lollies.
When Elder Roth finds a problem too big to take care of at the church, he urges the mother to bring her child in for treatment at his office in Pesega. “That tooth is going to hurt in a few weeks,” he says after seeing one such case.
At the next table, Sister Roth and their daughter, Lisa, apply fluoride varnish to the freshly brushed teeth. “It will protect them from further decay for up to three months,” says Sister Roth. They break through the language barrier with smiles and patience, play-acting how to open mouths wide and lean heads back. At times, older siblings or friends who speak English help translate.
Elder and Sister Roth have been working in a free dental clinic in Samoa for 17 months. They were enjoying the visit of their daughter and her husband, Lisa and Donavon Miller, and their four children, Aurora (16), Hayden (14), Machesney (12) and Payton (9), for the holidays when they decided to go help the children at Magiagi.
The four children assist by passing out tubes of toothpaste and small toys, from supplies donated by Elder Roth’s dentist colleagues in the U.S.A. All in all, they treat about 60 children between the ages of 3 and 12 that morning.
They also gave a basketball and soccer ball to the children being sheltered there. Hayden soon joins an impromptu game of four-on-four basketball while other children play football (soccer) on the front lawn.
The children seem to enjoy their encounters with the outgoing Elder Roth. One eight-year-old says seeing the dentist was “lelei” ("good"). Another adds, “E manaia! E le tiga” ("It was great! It didn’t hurt"). Other young patients say that he is, “O se tagata malie” ("a fun man"). Elder Roth says, “Kids are kids the world over. They can tell if you really care.”
What does he think of the children? “They are definitely brave,” he says. He adds that probably less than one percent of Samoan children have ever been to a dentist. “Having someone, especially a palagi, get so close and in-your-face can be intimidating; but none of the children made a major scene or melted-down, as I have seen happen in similar situations back home.”
Elder and Sister Roth had heard Elder F. Michael Watson, of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Second Counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speak in a Christmas devotional about the many children among the families he had visited in the Magiagi meetinghouse. They asked themselves, “What can we do to help?” Thus was born the idea for the morning’s clinic.
Elder Roth observes, “We are all children of our Heavenly Father. This is why we came to help.”
“It touched our hearts to do something to bring smiles to the faces of the children,” Sister Roth said. “Our hearts grow closer to those we serve. We came away with more than we gave.”