In 1981 Dr Brian Hollander, who worked at the American Dental Clinic in Kathmandu, found that Sherpa children on the Everest trail had four times the degree of dental decay than children off the trekking trail. His dream of a modern dental clinic became a practical possibility when Namche Bazaar received electricity from the hydro plant at Thamo. The building was paid for by the Everest Marathon Fund and the American Himalayan Foundation, Brian installed modern equipment and the clinic opened in February 1991. Nawang Dhoka, a Sherpani from Namche, was trained as a dental therapist in Saskatchewan, Canada, and she graduated in June 1991. Two years later Mingma Nuru Sherpa from Khumjung completed the same course, financed by the Everest Marathon Fund.

A competitor makes use of the facilities at the Dental Clinic
A competitor makes use of the facilities at the Dental Clinic

To address the problem of preventing dental decay and gum disease, Brian initiated a school dental health programme in 7 Khumbu schools in May 1994 and this is now operating in 11 schools. The programme involves the supervision by teachers of daily oral hygiene procedures, the administration of fluoride to combat decay and coating secondary molars with sealant. There has been a significant reduction in dental decay. Until 1998 this school programme, which cost $2,200 per year, was financed by the Everest Marathon Fund.

The number of patients is gradually increasing but the clinic is far from being financially self-sufficient. The American Himalayan Foundation pays salaries but money is required for building repairs, new and replacement equipment, expendable dental supplies and travel expenses to other villages and Kathmandu.

Since autumn 1998 the Everest Marathon Fund has paid for several building improvements. The treatment rooms have been moved upstairs where a huge skylight and secondary windows have greatly improved the heat and light. An electric geyser was installed to provide hot water, solar panels for room heating and a water distiller. The building also required a new roof and compound walls. To attract more donors and patients, Nawang produced a small leaflet in English and Nepali.

In 1999 Mingma Sherpa went to Fiji for 3 years to complete his training as a dentist, but then had to work for more than 2 years as an unpaid internee at the National Dental Hospital in Kathmandu before his qualification was approved by the Nepal Medical Council in November 2005. The Everest Marathon Fund paid for his tuition, travelling costs and living expenses, and his salary when he finally returned to the Namche Dental Clinic. He now has his own clinic in Kathmandu and is being sponsored by an Australian charity, specifically for dental education in Khumbu schools.

Future grants will be used to repair and improve the dental building.   In 2010 £3500 was required to repair damage caused by a major fire in an adjacent building.   In 2011 £2,000 was provided to rebuild the outside toilet (damaged by a recent earthquake) to modern standards.   £650 was also paid for a new promotional leaflet for distribution in the local lodges.   In 2013 £1560 was provided to refurbish the ground floor which is used for storage and training.   Now that training facilities are available in Kathmandu, we are also considering training another dental therapist.

The clinic was badly damaged in the 2015 April and May earthquakes:  one wall completely collapsed and the rest of the building was unsafe.    It has had to be completely rebuilt.  As the clinic received only a small grant from the 2013 race, we have now paid £10,000 towards reconstruction;  this will be used for the interior part including toilets and private staff rooms.

Nawang is retiring in July 2018 but, before she goes, we shall provide £2,000 to buy supplementary clinic equipment and dental supplies for the school education programme.

Namche Dental Clinic after the earthquakeNamche Dental Clinic after the earthquakeNamche Dental Clinic after the earthquake