The Tooth Bus is in Jamaica!

The Tooth Bus is a large bus outfitted with all the equipment needed to make and repair dentures.  After over 10 years of visioning, fundraising and hard work, the Tooth Bus has finally made its way to Jamaica.  The plan is that the bus will be able to go most anywhere in Jamaica where there was a work site, and have everything required to make dentures for those in need.

This project was spearheaded by Jim Gaff, a dentist who started traveling to Jamaica through a Mutual Mission program in 1991.  During early mission trips, he would have the patient sit in a ladder-back chair, pull the chair into his lap, and begin work on the patient.  This went on for a couple of years before some dental chairs and other equipment were purchased so that he and other dentists could work a bit more efficiently.  Eventually, dental hygienists also became part of the ministry team. Photos from early mission trips show the make-shift dental clinics.

Jim Gaff’s dream for a mobile dental unit began to take shape in 2010 when he found a bus.  Thanks to several generous donations by individuals, a $30,000 grant from the Presbyterian Women, and offerings from meetings of the Presbytery of St. Augustine, this dream became a reality. Untold hours went into repairing and outfitting the bus and rebuilding the engine. A great portion of the work was meticulously done by Chuck Davis, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Perry. RDS Manufacturing donated water tanks and other materials to complete the rehabilitation process.

Pauline Lawrence and Carlton Davis
Pauline Lawrence and Carlton Davis

One of the early generous donations to support the Tooth Bus came from Pauline Lawrence and her husband Carlton Davis (pictured above), members of Grace Presbyterian Church in Gainesville. They heard Jim Gaff speak about his vision of having a mobile bus that could be taken throughout Jamaica. Pauline, born in Jamaica, was particularly touched by the before and after photos of those who received new dentures, and she could see the relief, joy and pride in their eyes and big smiles. She felt called to provide the seed money for this venture. Pauline’s grandfather, Thomas Lawrence (pictured below), was one of the first native born ministers to be ordained in the Disciples of Christ church in Jamaica. The Tooth Bus has lovingly been named “Ethel”, in honor of the mule that “Brother Tom” rode around Jamaica to travel to Sunday worship.

Photos of the bus, outfitted with dental equipment, are seen below.

The culmination of this dream happened when local donations and fundraising efforts from our Jamaican partners raised money to pay the import taxes and other costs associated with shipping the bus. After a precarious trip to Fort Lauderdale, with several mechanical issues that had to quickly be addressed, the Tooth Bus was loaded onto a shipping container and has now arrived in Jamaica. Jim is planning on another trip soon to stock the Tooth Bus with necessary supplies and make sure it can travel on the backroads of Jamaica.  If all goes as planned, the Tooth Bus will be used in early 2021 when Saint Augustine Mutual Mission does their Dental Mission trip.

The Jamaican Ecumenical Mutual Mission (JEMM) partners are thrilled for this project to be completed and look forward to using the mobile unit throughout their country. JEMM partners include The Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, The Moravian Church in Jamaica, The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Saint Augustine Mutual Mission (SAMM), and the 57 congregations of our presbytery. You can read the history of how the Jamaican Ecumenical Mutual Mission began on our website.

The Presbytery of St. Augustine is grateful for all the hard work and commitment of those individuals who made it possible for the Tooth Bus to become a reality. There are sure to be big smiles from those who receive new dentures that are made in the up-to-date mobile unit.