Like father, like son: Two Magaras at UCU’s School of Dentistry

By Kefa Senoga
Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) Dean of the School of Dentistry (SoD),  James Magara, was among the 10 pioneer students getting a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at Makerere University in 1988. Thirty years later, in 2018, Magara’s son, David Magara, was among the pioneer students of UCU’s Bachelor of Dental Surgery program. 

One might think David was always attracted to the course because he saw his father practice the profession. 

But that’s not the case.

In fact, after David’s final examinations to qualify for university admission, he says he was conflicted about a career.. He was passionate about arts and had a love for music, but also was obsessed with sciences. Despite making up his mind to study dental surgery in 2015, David found himself at a crossroads when it was time to enroll in a university. Subsequently, he took a gap year to rediscover himself.

During that year, he worked at his father’s dental clinic – Jubilee Dental Limited – as a receptionist. It was during that time at the dental clinic that David got the affirmation that that was the profession for him. 

Magara (right) during a practical session with a colleague from the UCU School of Dentistry.
Magara (right) during a practical session with a colleague from the UCU School of Dentistry.

“While at the dental facility, I observed how the dentists enjoyed their work, and also had time to pursue their other passions,” he said. “I found that balance quite attractive, and it is what first interested me in the course.” 

David says after prayer and fasting about his future, he felt a strong peace about going into that field.

That same year, UCU was making arrangements to start a Bachelor of Dental Surgery course, which gave David the opportunity to also be a pioneer student in the course. 

He says humility, confidence, great listening and communication skills are some of the attributes that a dentist should have.

“Having seen my father practice dentistry for many years, I am confident to say he embodies each of these principles,” David says. Possibly these are some of the reasons UCU considered as they courted James Magara in 2020, to convince him to return to training Uganda’s next generation of dental surgeons. 

The SoD dean had left university teaching in 2007.

David says he has had the rare opportunity of learning from celebrated practitioners in Uganda, such as Dr. Arabat Kasangaki, who is one of his lecturers at UCU; Dr. Aisha Sekalala, an experienced orthodontist; Dr Francis Ochieng, a  dental practitioner; and Dr. Nevis Nagirembabazi, a clinician of dental surgery.

According to David, his former school, Vine International Christian Academy, prepared him well for the kind of experience that he has had at the School of Dentistry. At Vine International Christian Academy, David says he learned how to set daily, weekly, and long-term goals on a regular basis, something that has helped him to keep focused in school. 

He promotes oral hygiene awareness, and its impact on the overall health of a person. While good oral hygiene is believed to benefit the teeth and gums, its benefits extend to the rest of the body as well. 

David believes that because of poor oral health among the people, periodontal diseases which are a major source of tooth decay continue to be part of the pressing health issues in the country.

Oftentimes, dental surgeons in Uganda have decried the increase in cases of dental health issues, with research showing that 90% of the country’s population of about 45 million need dental attention. 

However, with the less than 300 dental surgeons who are in active practice in Uganda, covering only 29 districts (21% of the country), the possibility of the surgeons reaching all the people who need their services, for now, remains a distant dream. 

When David and his cohorts join the workforce soon, it is hoped that such statistics will, in time, improve and that even the poor in the rural areas who need the services of a dental surgeon will eventually get access to one.