The morning sun is already hot, and the lines of people waiting to have their dental problems relieved are long. In the island nation of Madagascar, dental care is expensive and beyond the reach of most. Outside the local hospital gates, 17-year-old Ronaldo stands with the men, waiting in a line to be examined by the Mercy Ships dental team. Next to them stretches a restless queue of children of all ages accompanied by their mothers. In the final column, the women patients stand beneath the shade of their colourful umbrellas.

Every eye is on the handful of little yellow appointment cards held by dental team supervisor Robbie Lerma as she begins screening and selecting patients. She randomly stops at one line and then another, examining patients here and there. Her seemingly haphazard selection makes it pointless for people in line to  “save a place” for someone else. The result is that each person waiting has an equal opportunity to receive dental care. Balancing these kinds of factors requires God’s daily wisdom when faced with so many in need.

Ronaldo lingers in line with his schoolbag slung over his shoulder, hoping for an appointment ticket and the opportunity for serious decay around and between his front teeth to be treated without charge. He explains, “I have a sister who came here before. She said, ‘Go there if you want to fix your teeth.’ So I came to see what they can do. I thought my front teeth would fall out. I don’t have money to spend at a dentist. Thanks to God I’ve been received.  I did not expect it because it was a long line, and I was at the end.”

When asked what caused the cavities in his teeth, Ronaldo replied, “I don’t really know, but one of my friends said it’s because I’m drinking really hot water and, after that, really cold water. I often do that.” Ronaldo no longer feels pain in his front teeth, so he does not realise that his health is a ticking time bomb. He is just concerned about preserving his fabulous smile.

After receiving his numbered appointment card, Ronaldo strolls into the Mercy Ships purpose-renovated dental clinic within the Malagasy hospital. He is examined by lead dentist Saulo Gamarra Gonzales, who is pleased that Mercy Ships gives quality dental care to the poor. “I will treat these patients the same way I would treat my patients at home,” he declares.

Dr. Gamarra explains the seriousness of Ronaldo’s condition to him. Decay has eaten away at his front teeth’s enamel and caused a major infection to spread from the damaged nerve. As a result, there is now a fistula or split in his gum above the affected tooth. It requires immediate intervention. After considering Ronaldo’s age, the dentist decides to perform a root canal to save his front tooth from extraction. He will also fill the other cavities.

Antibiotics to control the severe infection accompanied the dental work, and Ronaldo got the result he really hoped for – the restoration of his engaging grin.

He is graduating from high school soon, and Ronaldo hopes for a career in Customs and Immigration. He has leadership ambitions, and he really feared entering his adulthood and future profession with his front teeth missing. “I’m not going to lose my teeth when I’m older! Thanks for helping us in need!” he said.