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Dental volunteer camp: why every dental professional should have this on their bucket list

Blog Author Tashfeen Kholasi

Blog Date 21/05/2018

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Volunteering isn't everyone's cup of tea - most of us can think of a hundred alternative things to do that doesn't require us to give up a working week or two to help those in less-privileged countries.

 

After all we do this daily - promoting oral health, relieving pain, creating great smiles, right?

 

Can those areas of high need be really any different to those in developing countries?


For me, being part of the Smiles Across Nepal Mission Mustang trip made it clear -  the dental problems are the same - it's the oral health message and behavior change that are the real challenge. 

We started our mission visiting a community health clinic high up a 'hill' - where the winding rocky single lane dirt track with a sheer drop was a taster of our journey to come.

 

The sight of small communities living and building off the land was a real insight to the country's poverty.

 

Meanwhile at the clinic the charity had donated a brand new dental chair which had commanded a queue of patients post-inauguration.

 

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The following day was an educational day at Dhulikhel Dental Hospital where we delivered lectures to the senior dental students on oral cancer, antimicrobial resistance, orthodontics and collaboration projects in dentistry.

 

It was a great opportunity to also meet our fellow Nepalese Dental Team who would be joining us for the trip to Mustang.

We swiftly moved on to the Mustang region - 2 days of travelling on the rockiest mountain in 4x4 convoy - basic transport, no seat belts, no air con, rock face drops, driving through rivers and having road side cafe breaks.

 

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Hot, humid, bumpy yet beautiful scenery and sights you could never imagine and photos just don't do justice too.

 

Credit to our driver who was a life saver on several instances, without his awesome driving skills and patience (being stuck with the dental version of the pitch perfect, fortunately for him, Nepalese was his first and only language!!)

Arriving in Jomsom late at night, we had no idea of the surroundings area which welcomed us the next morning.

 

Beautiful mountains, blue sky and a harsh dusty wind started dental camp at Shree Janit Secondary school. Here we set up separate classrooms with basic portable equipment for extractions, restorative and oral health promotion.

 

A conveyor belt of school children  accepted treatment without fuss, those anxious were supported by their peers be it holding hands or popping heads through windows!! 

 

Overall 500 children seen, 300 extractions and restorations carried out. Definitely a worthy UDA day if it was on the NHS!!
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Nepalese New Year saw us visit the village of Kagbeni, setting up our makeshift dental camp in their local health clinic which was no more than a hut with two rooms and a baby weighing machine (which left several dented heads!).

 

The extraction room consisted of 3 wooden chairs, 1 shared bin (aka spittoon) and an empty volvic bottle (sharps bin).

 

The day started off slowly, as news spread, the team saw over 100 patients throughout the day, most needing multiple extractions and fillings.

 

Light - a commodity we take for granted - was a minimum in the clinic, holding head torches or light pens to see your anticipated tooth was a luxury and at times the extraction done blindly.

 

Before you ask - radiographs? There were none!

Along our road journeys we would see children playing happily on their home-grown playgrounds - no health and safety officers - just happy kids.

 

We stopped at the road side to visit a family of 5 who had been to a previous health camp. Their home consisted of a corrugated roof kept down by large stones and walls made of cloth.

 

The presence of visitors generated a real buzz in the village, clothes and pens were donated with the asking for 'one sweet 'by the children, which made you wonder how much sugar frequented their diets daily.

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Travelling through the villages, we came across one of our patients from Kagbeni, a disabled lady who had been burned in a fire. Her mode of transport was her mute husband who would carry her everywhere.

 

We were fortunate to visit her at her home where she lived in nothing more than a small dark room with a wooden door. Being disabled she was an outcast in her village and living below the poverty line.

 

Her husband had gone to look for their cow as this was their only means of subsistence. She was grateful for the company and described her challenges both personally and amongst society.

 

Quite an emotional experience for the team when experiencing poverty first hand and the struggles and lengths people must go to survive. 

The team them split in to two, with Team SAN delivering oral health to private boarding schools and monasteries and Team Dhulikhel venturing further afield to Lo Mantang for Charung Dental Camp.

 

The oral health initiatives included dental screening and oral health advice, the monks we assessed were 18years and under, with very few demonstrating caries, this partly due to the traditional Nepalese meal of Dhal Bhat and education in oral care.

 

The private schools fared slightly worse with children demonstrating caries in adult teeth, partly due to the fact from a young age they traditionally drank sweetened tea.

 

Tapping in to cultural transformation to deliver that all important oral health message to parents and local communities is probably one of the toughest traditions to crack.



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Meanwhile up in Lo Mantang, most of the team survived the high altitude to deliver the dental camp. One of their first patients was an 8-year-old boy with cellulitis associated with a dental abscess.

 

He had travelled with his uncle for 4 hours to meet the team having suffered over the past month with pain and swelling. This was one life saving emergency dental service! 

With dental camp over, there was still one more oral health visit the team had to make. This was to Maiti Nepal - a children's charity for abandoned, trafficked, abused and at-risk children.

 

Over 400 children - mostly girls - living in a haven in Kathmandu. The team delivered the oral health message and treated the children to lunch and toys.

 

The moment that stuck with me the most was seeing all these kids from as young as 3months - living together as a family, being educated, provided medical care and social support for a chance of a better future, the charity proudly told us that 3 of their senior students had gained places at medical school this year.


I thank Drs Sanjeeb Nepali & Priyasma Gauchan of Smiles Across Nepal in organizing the trip and Dhulikhel Dental Hospital for their Nepalese support, having the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges of a developing country, life, and dentistry in the UK with the NHS isn't so bad and would I go again? I sure would! 

 

If you'd like to support the cause, you can donate online - or you can consider a volunteer trip yourself, get in touch with Smiles Across Nepal organisers.

 

Tashfeen Kholasi, Leadership Clinical Fellow

Health Education England 

 

 

BDA Young Dentists - share your experiences

The BDA's Young Dentists Committee is offering you a chance to discuss your views and share your experience. If you'd like to write an article for our next e-newsletter, please email us.

We'd also love to hear your thoughts on our blogs: please give feedback by tweeting @TheBDA, using the hashtag #youngdentists