This June Today’s Dentistry sent three of our dental team to perform voluntary dental treatments on Cambodian street children in Sihanoukville, Cambodia for one week.
With much of the Cambodian infrastructure destroyed under the Khmer Rouge many children are heavily dependent on Non Government Organisations (NGO) to provide essential services such as basic dental and medical.
Dentist David Kerr, Dental Nurse Alisha Samuel, Oral Health Therapist Annie Nguyen spent 5 days at a clinic run by NGO M’Lop Tapang. M’Lop Tapang have been working with street children in this area of Cambodia since 2003 providing shelter, medical care (such as eye and ear treatments), sports, arts, education, training, counselling, family support and protection from all types of abuse.
Across the 5 days David, Annie and Alisha treated approximately 180 patients across 5 days, where we would usually see 40-60 patients in the same time frame in our Brisbane clinic.
Annie commented that the team set off without any expectations, but their hearts open to help. “Throughout the week I was continually surprised at the amount of dental problems we saw and the lack of little luxuries that we take for granted in Australia. For instance the heat and humidity were pretty unbearable but there is no air-conditioning.”
Dr David Kerr was pleasantly surprised by the dental clinic and the dental chairs which were modern and in good order. “The support staff there were also amazing with their help and endless enthusiasm towards us and the kids we were treating.”
The patients you see when you do dental volunteering
At the start of each day the clinic brings in patients on the back of a truck from anywhere from 50 – 200km away. 90% of the patients we saw were aged from 4 – 17 although as a way of encouraging parents to take the day of work and come with their kids we also offered dental treatments for parents as well.
Because the likelihood of the kids being able to receive follow up treatment was low, in cases that our team would normally give a filling and monitor in Australia, in Cambodia they had to perform extract the teeth instead. This meant tooth extractions were the main treatment performed and in many cases getting kids out of dental pain from decay they had endured for a long time.
“What amazed me was just how tolerant these kids were with receiving such extensive treatment,” said David, who was also regularly confused by the age of the kids he was treating. “Because so many of them were malnourished I often got caught thinking I was treating a 6 year old when in reality they were 8 or even older.”
A drop in the ocean still makes a difference
Which in the high humidity, heat, and an endless line of children the team admitted it could have easily felt like you weren’t making much of a dent in the overall problem. However, seeing the kid’s attitudes, grateful smiles and the enthusiasm of the people who work there everyday made it feel effortless. “I think after this first experience, all we want to do is come back and do more, which appears to be the case with a lot of Australians,” said Annie. “If I could do it all again, which I hope I get the opportunity to do, I would go for a longer period of time…and take shorts!”