Tristan da Cunha islander’s nervous visit to dental school

Grass topped cliffs along the north west coast between the settlement of Edinburgh and potato patches, on Tristan da Cunha. Picture: Geoff Renner/Shutterstock
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A student from the world’s most remote inhabited island has travelled 6,500 miles to take lessons at a Scottish university.

Michelle Green, a resident of Tristan Da Cunha – a tiny outpost in the South Atlantic – has signed up for dentistry training at the University of Dundee.

Michelle Green uses the latest equipment at Dundee University. Picture: University of Dundee

After completing her studies she will travel back to her homeland to become the dental nurse for the island’s 267 residents.

It’s only the second time Green has ever left Tristan, the first was for a family trip to South Africa when she was six years old.

Her father Nigel and Mum Judith, both sets of grandparents and various aunties, uncles and cousins all still live there.

But now the 22-year-old, who comes from the island’s main settlement – called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas – has made the journey to Scotland and will stay here until April.

“I was really nervous and scared about making the trip to Dundee,” she said. “It’s a lot bigger than what I’m used to.”

Tristan Da Cunha, a British overseas territory, is part of an archipelago of the same name in the middle of the Atlantic.

The nearest inhabited island is St Helena, 1,200 miles away, while the closest continental land is South Africa, 1,500 miles away.

The territory consists of the main island, which is seven miles from end to end, along with the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible and Gough islands.

There is no airport and no sheltered anchorage.

By studying at the Scottish dental school, Green is following something of a tradition. Dundee dentistry graduates have been going to Tristan Da Cunha for more than 20 years. In 1995 Dr Chris Southwick, who previously worked at Dundee Dental Hospital, saw an advert looking for a dentist to visit the island.

“I was told if I could put a team together then I would stand a much better chance,” said Southwick. “The department backed me 100 per cent and said they’d provide a nurse. All I had to do was source a technician.”

The team made their first trip that year, staying for 12 days. They worked day and night to fix an array of dental problems, from pulling teeth to fitting dentures.

“We had to squeeze everyone in during the time we had available, but it was made much easier by the fact that the people were so lovely and welcomed us with open arms,” said Southwick.

The island is now due to acquire its first dental suite, which will be headed by dentist Dr Penelope Grainger, another graduate of Dundee.

The dental school’s Professor Pete Mossey has provided orthodontic advice to the islanders over the years, and helped to facilitate Green’s trip.

He said: “It is such a delight to have Michelle here in Dundee. She has a fantastic attitude towards this opportunity and is making the most of it, both professionally and personally.”

Green added: “I’m here to learn everything I can about dental work, from children to dentures.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to match up to the hygienist back home, though she has got 30-something years on me.”

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