Being able to help people in need is indeed a privilege…
I recently returned from spending a week in the Philippines as part of a medical team who goes to the same community twice a year to provide medical and dental treatment. This community is made up of inhabitants, many of whom were relocated to the area known as Calauan in the Province of Laguna after their homes in Manila were destroyed by a typhoon in 2010. It is an impoverished community whose diet still contains large amounts of refined sugar (sweets and soft drinks) and there is no fluoride in the drinking water. The results have been devastating in that there are many health issues in the adults (diabetes and high blood pressure) and many of the children have almost every tooth in their mouth severely decayed and in need of extraction.
The Team consisted of 5 Medical Doctors, 3 Dentists (including myself), a Dental Prosthetist and 20 Medical students. The various clinics that patients could attend were Dental, Optical, Women’s Health and General Medicine. The Dental Clinic was very busy with about 50 patients treated each day, each having multiple extractions carried out in very basic conditions. We had music blaring, and excellent support from local interpreters that also helped us calm the many petrified, yet stoic children that had to have rotten teeth extracted under local anaesthetic.
Bearing in mind that, as an Orthodontist, I had not extracted any teeth since specialising (many years ago), it was daunting for me too when doing my first few extractions after so many years. I soon got into the swing of things and realised the true value of the service we were providing to these people who would not normally be receiving the treatment we were providing.
At the end of each day, I felt both physically exhausted and emotionally drained….a million miles away from my normal work environment, a clean Orthodontic surgery with patients who have clean teeth and no decay, in beautiful Sydney. And yet, I felt so proud that I was there, giving my time, energy and skills to people who really were disadvantaged and impoverished. I also realised that it is a lot easier to give than it is to receive.
The medical students were soon asking me to teach them how to extract teeth, how to anesthetise the dental patients and how to deal with children who would not let you look at their mouths!
I feel privileged to have been able to be part of this Team and look forward to doing it all again next year.