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Posted on Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

University of Michigan graduate opens free oral health care clinic in Uganda

By Chelsea Hoedl


Shinska plans to provide oral health care to children in Uganda as a part of Hope Smiles.

Courtesy of Ryan Shinska.

At a church in Uganda in 2012, University of Michigan Dental School graduate Ryan Shinska listened as the preacher asked if there were any U-M fans present. Shinska was in Uganda that day as a part of an outreach program. He and a team of dentists traveled to provide care to Ugandan children and to educate them about dental hygiene.

“He didn’t know I was there or that I was from Michigan,” Shinska said. “It was completely random. There were a lot of random things like that, which led me to where I am now. All these crazy, inexplicable things in my life got me over to Uganda, and are sending me back now.”

Shinska, who graduated from the dental school in 2005, will return to Uganda on July 24 to provide children with accessible dental care, connect with communities throughout the country and enable Ugandans to provide oral health care services to their own communities.

“There’s a tremendous need there and I’ve been given the tools and resources to make something happen,” Shinska said.

The clinic, Hope Smiles Uganda, will be located in Jinja, one of the largest towns in Uganda. Shinska, the leader and coordinator of the clinic will employ two assistants, a secretary and a driver who also will act as a translator.

Shinska’s team also will be comprised entirely of native Ugandans. He hopes this help to connect with the community and more successfully give locals the tools to provide basic oral care in the future.

“I just want to provide the same kind of care that you see here in the states and empower locals to provide that care as well,” Shinska said. “I don’t think where you are born should determine what kind of health care you receive.”

Shinska said ultimately he hopes to create a dental school to train Ugandans to provide basic oral care for their villages.

“Even in inner cities in the states there is access to care,” Shinska said. “It may be difficult to obtain, but it’s just a matter of connecting with the city, whereas in Uganda, there are literally no dentists for people to see.”

Shinska said he wants communities around the world to have the ability to provide oral care and hopes he can encourage and enable Ugandans to deliver care within communities.

“It’s about empowering people,” Shinska said. “It’s not about people thinking they have all the answers when really they just have all the resources.”

Dental issues have been shown to have several a person's overall health and can create major health issues reaching outside the mouth, according Shinska, so children receiving regular check-ups and proper education about how to take care of their teeth is extremely important.

Shinska will partner with NGOs and ministries in order to provide children with proper dental care. Initially, Shinska will care for about 3,500 kids, but he plans to work with other communities after he establishes more connections in the country.

“I hope to partner with different villages,” Shinska said. “For the most part I’ll be seeing kids in Jinja, but it’s important to connect with outside communities and provide care wherever I can.”

All of Shinska’s equipment will be portable, so traveling to unreached communities will not arise as an issue.

Hope Smiles Uganda is raising money to pay for the tools and equipment needed to provide care to children in Jinja as well as children in surrounding communities. Shinska set the fundraising goal at $50,000 and already has raised more than $32,000.

“Right now I’m focusing on fundraising and spending time with friends before I leave,” Shinska said. “All of the travel plans are taken care of and there are a lot of things I can’t do until I get there, like find a place to live or get a driver’s license.”

Shinska said he will be staying in Uganda indefinitely.

“It could be two or three years, or it could be 30 or 40,” Shinska said. “I’m leaning towards 30 or 40 because I think it’s going to work. It really depends on finances and eventually obtaining grants.”

After Shinska’s visit to Uganda in 2012 and his return trip in January 2013, he said he has been in touch with a lot of people in the area and is looking forward to using his education and resources to help those who need it.

The biggest challenge for any health care provider is connecting with the community, Shinska said.

“It’s about making sure you’re learning the culture and understanding what they struggle with and what they dream about every day,” Shinska said.

Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for She can be reached at



Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

TruBlu, there are lots of Dentists that do pro bono work in their practices. So we should ignore Uganda because they have huge population problems? I say good for Dr Shinska! He has found something and somewhere that he can make a big difference and is pursuing it. He could easily have chosen to practice in Ann Arbor and eventually have the big house, cars, and all the toys that a well trained professional could attain.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Great! Now bring that can do spirit to the states and especially Washtenaw County which has little and virtually no free dental care. There is a clinic with a wait list and a limited number of people they claim as clients but since Medicaid stopped covering dental decades ago, there is no coverage for the poor. Why do people look to the world to save it and then forget about those in their own neighborhoods?


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

All this talk about the cost of health care - and we see that charity assistance with dental care IN THE U.S. is discouraged by: the polices of The American Dental Association. Little attention is given to the fact that even such institutions as U of M's own Dental School cannot "compete with" practicing dentists. More bluntly: it's forbidden from undercutting the fees of practicing dentists. When an agency controls the price/cost of something: that agency is called a cartel. But neither do government price controls work. So it is, when dentist like Ryan Shinska decide they want to do volunteer charity dental work: they go to other countries. And don't anyone try to assert that all dental care is of equal quality under our system. The "search for a good dentist" is a common part of American life. This search for "good" is evidence enough for the plentitude of "bad" (aka, inferior). Also, you can have a heart attack and get care valued in the neighborhood of $50,000 but pay only a small fraction of that cost because "medical insurance" covers the rest. But look at what dental insurance (notable because it's mysteriously declared to be a separate kind of health care) and you'll quickly find there's much less insurance support available. It's true that "better home care" in the form of better eating habits and frequent use of toothbrushes would lower the incidence of dental disease. But candy makers have already undermined those efforts and spend millions on making ours a candy-eating culture. We even devote one evening a year to giving kids free candy. Charity begins at home - not in Uganda.


Sat, Jul 6, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

Uganda 2nd highest fertility rate in the world. 5th highest population growth rate in the world. 35 million people in 92k square miles (about the entire state of Michigan) Uganda GDP $17 Billion (about 3x UM's total revenue and expense). Smile. That is Pure Michigan!