Where There Is No Dentist

Murray Dickson 1983

This book has a special place in David Werner’s heart perhaps because he personally contacted its author Murray Dickson, convincing him to write it, bringing him into the Hesperian fold. Murray Dickson in 1983:

Much has happened since that day in Papua New Guinea when David Werner’s letter arrived. His challenge was simple: “Since no one else has written a dental manual like this, why don’t you?” With David’s encouragement and constant support, I was able to take teaching notes and produce a suitable draft that was the basis for this book. To you, David, for your patience in helping me learn, my heartfelt thanks. Thanks also to Trude Bock and Bill Bower for the home, food, direction, and support, during a short visit to The Hesperian Foundation in which the book took a definite turn for the better.

Where There Is No Dentist is a book about what people can do for themselves and each other to care for their gums and teeth. It is written for:

  • village and neighborhood health workers who want to learn more about dental care as part of a complete community-based approach to health;

  • school teachers, mothers, fathers, and anyone concerned with encouraging dental health in their children and their community; and

  • those dentists and dental technicians who are looking for ways to share their skills, to help people become more self-reliant at lower cost.


As a nurse educator, I can say that the Where There Is No Dentist text by the Hesperian Foundation, has been an excellent health resource text for us. Both its content, its diagrams and the educational level it was written for, have proven to be extremely useful. The content has been very practical in teaching lay Brazilians about oral hygiene and health care, as well as for identifying when oral and dental health problems exist and when and how to refer people to a dentist. It is rare that excellent health texts like this are written for the lay individuals.
—Janette Ryan, Health Director Project AmaZon Mission [PAZ], Brazil

By giving a well-balanced mixture of illustrations and simple, succinct text in layman’s terms, the book provides valuable, hands-on advice for the most important oral health issues: oral health promotion in the community and basic oral care in low-resource settings.
—Habib Benzian World Dental Federation (FDI)

[Where There Is No Dentist is] a full on do-it-yourself guide for community health workers, educators and individuals on how to diagnose common dental problems, handle dental equipment, use local anesthetics, place fillings without drilling and remove teeth. The book uses simple instructions to make dentistry as accessible as can be. The new edition even includes a chapter on oral health and HIV/AIDS, as well as a guide to treat the dental problems commonly faced by people living with HIV/AIDS.
—Benjamin Joffe-Walt, Chief of Staff, Change.org, USA

David Remembers Where There Is No Dentist

Editor’s Note: In 2021, I asked David about why he included Where There Is No Dentist on the HealthWrights website, since he didn’t write it and HW did not publish it. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

David Werner

Where There Is No Dentist was written by Murray Dickson. He’s Canadian by birth, but he came down [to Mexico]—if I recall correctly—and volunteered to help with some of the training of our village dental technicians. And then got into doing Where There Is No Dentist. But he also had helped setup people-run dentistry projects in a number of African countries. And we corresponded back and forth about all that. And when he took on the writing of the book, he stayed with us a while at Trudy’s house. And we went over the content very carefully, mainly making sure that it was simple enough and clear enough so that people with little formal education would udnerstand it. And I also wrote the introduction or preface to it. But he and I remain good friends. Recently we have been out of touch for some time, but we still have a friendship, a good friendship together.