Ohio State Dental Journal

A Lasting Impact

Children in West Java, Indonesia, proudly show their clean hands and  teeth after washing them at a special table developed by Bruce Walker, '91 DDS, and other collaborators.

As Ohio’s only state-supported public dental school, the College of Dentistry takes seriously its responsibility to educate the next generation of dental professionals who can then go into communities to help expand access to care. And, from rural towns and urban centers in Ohio to remote villages worldwide, College of Dentistry alumni are making a difference. This is a look at two alumni serving abroad. Although they are working in different capacities, these dental professionals were led to their adopted communities by the same motivation: a desire to make a lasting impact for people in need.

Tim Bartholomew, ’96 DDS

Originally from Mansfield, Ohio, Tim Bartholomew, ’96 DDS, didn’t want to work in a factory as his parents did. His brother, Terry Bartholomew, DDS, graduated from the College of Dentistry in 1994, and he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps.  After hearing a lecture by faculty member Rick Scheetz, ’80 DDS, ’85 MS, Dr. Bartholomew decided to specialize in oral surgery. Following graduation from the College of Dentistry, he completed an oral surgery internship at Loyola University and residency at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Subsequently, he did fellowships at the Oral Surgical Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, and at the University of Miami. Then, he prepared to go to Africa.

Tim Bartholomew, ’96 DDS, and his wife, Huyen
Bartholomew, MD, have performed oral surgeries throughout
several African countries.

“The American dream of affluence wasn’t stressed in my family,” Dr. Bartholomew said. “God was calling me to do something different. I completed a one-year fellowship at the Oral Surgical Institute in Nashville. During that year, I met a general surgeon who worked in Gabon in Africa.  He said they could use someone like me, but I’d have to raise my own funding. I had to get all my own surgical instruments, and I had to learn French. I thought, ‘Okay, I can do that.’”

Dr. Bartholomew spent the next year collecting instruments from donors, raising financial support, and  learning French. Afterward, he spent more than two years in Gabon and Niger, West Africa.

“Originally, I went to Gabon and stayed there for four months and then moved to Niger for two years and helped train a dentist from Singapore who hadn’t completed a residency. It was during that time that I met my wife, Huyen, at a conference in Thailand. She was a missionary general practitioner on the other side of the world in Cambodia.”

Sponsored by several churches and also by about 15 individuals, Dr. Bartholomew and his wife, whose training in anesthesia makes her an ideal surgical partner, have lived and practiced in the West African countries of Cameroon and Mali.

“I see a lot of kids with burns because they cook in open fires with scalding water,” Dr. Bartholomew said. “I also see diseases like Noma, which leads to missing parts of faces, lips, noses, eyes and scar tissue, as well as ankylosis of the jaw and tumors. The kids with burns and Noma get neglected because they need way more work and way more care. They are really suffering. We do any head and neck surgeries that come to us.”

Now that they have a child, the couple plans to move to a sub-Saharan African country where there are better educational opportunities. Dr. Bartholomew also maintains his ties to home by coming back to Ohio in the summer to do locum tenens work and by working with the college's Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and Radiology to have microscopic diagnoses for tissue biopsies done for many of his difficult cases.

Dr. Bartholomew plans to continue his missionary work for another 10 years before coming home permanently to spend time with his aging parents. In the meantime, his work in Africa continues. “My patients are ideal patients in terms of gratefulness and patience. They know us as Christian missionary doctors who will do the absolute best we can for them and won’t ask for much money. They know I’ll do what I can to help.”

Bruce Walker, ’91 DDS

Like Dr. Bartholomew, Berea, Ohio-born Bruce Walker, ’91 DDS, thought that God was calling him to do humanitarian work oversees. After practicing in Delaware, Ohio, for 11 years, he and his wife, Sonya, who earned a medical degree at Ohio State, packed up their three small children and moved to West Java, Indonesia, where they had friends.

Bruce Walker, ’91 DDS, educates Indonesian school children
on the importance of clean hands and teeth.

“Originally, we thought we’d stay in Indonesia for three or four years, but it’s now been over 14 years,” Dr. Walker said. “When we arrived, I thought I would work in the dental school, but it turned out my time was better spent working with the Department of Education influencing what was causing dental problems. I found out the number one reason kids weren’t attending school in West Java was because of dental problems, accounting for 61 percent of absenteeism, according to statistics collected by the government.

“There are several reasons for the problems, but two top ones are the lack of the use of fluoride and overexposure to processed foods. A toothache so affects your ability to concentrate. Their parents, who have also experienced dental pain, have empathy for their kids and keep them home.

“I knew of a colleague in the Philippines, Dr. Bella Monse, who was implementing a program to promote daily hand washing with soap, daily tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and the use of deworming medication. I contacted her to discuss how this strategy could be implemented in Indonesia.

“It sounds super simple, but we ran into many problems, and we came up with many innovations. One of the many innovations where water access was a problem was a portable hand-washing table. We worked with an Indonesian architect and the country director of Partner Aid International (a development and disaster relief charity) to develop a hand-washing table for those elementary schools that had no running water.”

Dr. Walker said that providing a mass hand-washing facility or table and stocking it with soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste cost $2.50 per child the first year. After that, with a facility in place, the cost per year is reduced to 50 cents. “The kids never take the toothbrush home. It stays at school with their name on it. Each year, the kids get a new toothbrush. The first year, we provide the toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap. After that, we ask the parents to buy the materials.

“The beauty of this program is that it provides for the very poor children who often don’t have toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap in their homes. The impact on their health is significant, reducing absenteeism by as much as 25 percent. The in-school program helps level the playing field between the poor and more affluent in terms of their ability to attend school.”

Dr. Walker plans to remain in Indonesia for at least three more years. His youngest child will graduate from high school at that time, and he and his wife will then decide what to do with the next chapter of their lives. Having maintained his licensure in Ohio, Dr. Walker likes the idea of coming home one day to practice or perhaps to teach at the College of Dentistry.

Currently, though, he is steadfast in his efforts to advocate for the children in his adopted province in Indonesia. “The government has seen this program as an inexpensive and effective way to address dental decay and improve the overall health of children in schools,” Dr. Walker said. “It’s been a privilege to work together with the people in the government who are responsible for the health of children on an everyday basis.”