News Story

Dental Missionaries Leave Healthy Smiles in Kiribati and Vanuatu

Hundreds of people in the islands of Kiribati and Vanuatu are smiling more brightly now, thanks to the effort of senior missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While serving a 23-month service mission to Samoa, Dr. Roger and Sister Julie Roth made a two-week visit to Tarawa, Kirabati and another to Efate, Vanuatu to offer dental assistance.

They took portable dental chairs, dental tools (and a rice cooker to sterilize them), and supplies of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and fluoride. At each location the Church provided space to work in, while missionary nurses and local Latter-day Saints volunteered their services, including help with language interpretation.

“Getting off the plane [in Kiribati], we showed our passports at a thatched-roof booth, and declared our equipment,” said Sister Roth, who is a dental hygienist. “Hundreds of little children waved to us as their heads popped up over the fence, trying to see who was arriving in their country.”

The Roths examined and cleaned teeth, applied fluoride and fillings and pulled teeth when necessary. All services were given free of charge.

Sister Cassita, Medical Nurse Specialist, praised the Roth’s efforts:  “The service that was rendered to the people here in Kiribati was so much more than just fixing a tooth.  They showed such compassion and tender loving care that was healing to their spirits. People continue to ask if they are coming back.”

According to Sister Roth, “The people were very patient. Women from the villages waited outside, hoping to see the dentist. We’d take water out to them and visit when we got a chance. They are so happy, yet they live in the middle of such poverty.”

The Roths also taught dental health and nutrition to local Mormon women from the Relief Society organization in a special meeting. They demonstrated correct brushing and flossing techniques, discussed how good nutrition can help teeth stay strong and warned of foods to avoid because they promote cavities. The Roths hope these women will help the younger generation build habits that will preserve their teeth and health.

They toured the hospital dental clinic in Tarawa and donated $1,000 US worth of supplies received from dentists and dental supply companies in the USA. The hospital expressed great appreciation.

In Efate, Vanuatu, the Roths treated 170 patients.  

“Tourism is flourishing in Efate. The city looks prosperous with yachts and sail boats in the harbor and elegant resorts for tourists, but most island people live much more modestly, and their dental needs are grave,” said Sister Roth.

Many people waited a long time to see the dental couple. Dr. Roth scraped off a lot of calculus [hardened dental plaque], filled cavities, and pulled teeth. Most of the patients had little previous exposure to oral health services, and few owned a toothbrush.

“Frequently we worked more hours than normal because there were so many people waiting to be helped. You’d see them with their swollen faces. How could you just leave and not help them?” Julie Roth said. “The rice cooker, which we used for sterilizing, was running ‘round the clock, from when we first got in to the time we left.”

In Vanuatu, the Roths also met with local Latter-day Saints, where they handed out more toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, and educated people about tooth care. “If your gums bleed, it means you need to brush more, not stop brushing!” Julie Roth told them.

“The dental services given to the people of Vanuatu by Elder and Sister Roth were indeed a tender mercy,” said Larry E. Brewer, Vanuatu Port Vila Mission President.  “Not a moment was wasted giving of their time and talent ministering to many prospective missionaries, children, and adults who had never received dental service and whose need was great.”

When it was time to depart, and in spite of the long hours, Julie Roth said, “It was very difficult to have to leave and to not be able to help all who requested it.” 

The Roths have recently completed their LDS mission and have returned to their home in Hayden Lake, Idaho in the United States. But they plan to return to the South Pacific once a year to help with the dental care needs of islanders.

Additional Resources

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.