Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Welcome to Cambodia! Oral health placement

Walking out of the Phnom Penh International Airport at 6:30pm, a gush of 29°C heat and humidity swept over us! ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ our tour guide said as we climbed on the bus.

As we began our slow journey, the incredible amount of vehicles, scooters and tuk-tuks on the roads was overwhelming. There are so many vehicles on Phnom Penh roads that a 10km trip from the airport to our hotel took us an hour! During this trip, our tour guide explained the culture and surroundings of Phnom Penh, she explained just how poor so many Cambodians are, with the average person surviving on only $1 a day. As we arrived to our home for the next 18 days and most of us were feeling quite miserable about the circumstances of the people here, feeling as though there wasn’t much hope. 


The following morning, we visited ‘Friends International’ a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that is involved in keeping children safe and encouraging education and business within Cambodia, and preventing young and old from being involved in begging, drugs, sex trafficking and homelessness. It also supports businesses that hire marginalized youth and encourage education and employment within this sub-population. 

They provided us with an educational seminar on the ‘Child Safe Movement’ and how to prevent tourism that encourages the abuse of children. We then visited the public and private dental universities of Phnom Penh. It was incredible to see how similar both universities were to home! It was impressive to see how thorough the courses are in Cambodia. Both private and public universities had a dental clinic where the public could come receive dental treatment pricing from $1. The students also have the option to provide free treatment to individuals who seem incredibly poor and require treatment.

We all felt a lot more hope after this day, seeing how many NGO’s and individuals are motivated to encourage healthy safe environments for children and to encourage safe work for everyone within the community. The Universities provided hope, seeing how dedicated and motivated students were to make a change in their community and provide incredible, vital care in their home town. 

 The third day we had tours of the Palace, the genocide museum and the killing fields. This day was emotionally draining for everyone on the trip. It’s truly heartbreaking to see how much the people of Cambodia have faced with throughout the past 50 years, and how difficult it has been to rebuild from this. With so many fundamental issues still not having been resolved within the community, it seems difficult to address dental concerns.

Access to electricity, access to clean water, basic personal hygiene, rubbish collection and public bins are still not available throughout the whole of Cambodia. Issues such as water fluoridation and tooth brushing cannot be solved when basic human needs have not been met for everyone. On our tuk-tuk home, a few of us were waving to a child who was in the car next to us. When the cute boy broke into laughter, all his upper front teeth had decay.

This was quite a shock to us at the time as this would be a rare sight in Australia. However for a child in Cambodia, by the age of 6 the average DMFT score is 9. This means that on average, by the age of 6 a child will have 9 decayed, missing or filled teeth, being almost half the teeth that they would have by this age. 

We spent the next four days at PIO (People Improvement Organisation) School that was built along a rubbish dump to support families and educate children in this area, who had turned to picking rubbish out of the dump to support themselves. In conjunction with One2One Charitable Trust, we were providing silver diamond fluoride (SDF) to the deep pits and fissures of every child within the school, while also providing ART restorations and fissure seals to high risk patients.

There are 500 children within the school that require their 6 monthly SDF application, and we are trying to get through as many as we can within our 6 days at this clinic. Having four make-shift dental chairs, using tables and chairs to create our own clinic, it was quite demanding. With no triplex, suction, light or access to all our usual equipment or materials, working within these conditions really encourages team work and being versatile.

Making our own cotton pellets from cotton balls, creating our own autoclave with a pressure cooker for sterilising, manually writing down computer notes before entering them into the computer as quick as we can with the slow Wi-Fi access, working in teams of three with one person holding the flash-light and using bins for spit buckets are only a few of the changes to our usual luxurious dental clinics. Being within these clinics really makes you appreciate just how privileged we are, and after day one we were all wishing we had our dental chairs with suction and the triplex back!  

The children, however, make every hot day rewarding, and their beautiful personalities motivated us to complete each day. By the end of the week we were all ready for our three day trip to Siem Reap to explore more of Cambodia’s history.

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