Have you ever wondered what dentistry is like in other parts of the world? It may surprise you, even in the most remote communities, adults and children experience similar dental problems.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to do volunteer dentistry work at a clinic in remote Cambodia. I went with a not-for-profit organisation called Mlop Tapang, who were based in Sihanoukville, a beachside village two hours away from Phnom Penh. The dental clinic, which is reliant on donations and volunteer dentists, treats vulnerable children and their families.
The volunteer work was a life-changing, to say the least. Furthermore, the experience has shaped the way we approach dentistry at our clinic in Blackburn.
Here are the 3 insights we learned in Cambodia:
#1: Too much sugar is detrimental
In my time at Mlop Tapang, I saw kids come in for dental treatments. Often, these children lived in poor communities nearby and didn’t have much adult supervision. They also had easy access to cheap sweets. Understandably, the kids loved eating lollies. For 3 simple reasons: they tasted good, gave them energy, and were very cheap to buy. Unfortunately, this caused severe teeth rot. With dental rot at such a young age, their adult teeth were getting holes before they had the chance to grow out.
Interestingly, I also saw children who came to the clinic from extremely remote areas. They were often farming communities where kids had no access to manufactured sweets. These kids had no problems with their teeth.
As Mlop Tapang’s dental program matured, we were able to educate kids on great brushing habits and what foods to avoid eating. It was rewarding to see the community grow more aware of dental disease. Kids were also returning to the clinic for teeth check-ups and cleans.
The impact of diet was surprising, particularly around sugar. In Australia, it can be hard to spot hidden sugars. For example, sultanas, dried fruits and muesli bars may seem healthier than lollies, but can contain as much sugar. By being aware of hidden sugar in food, this can significantly improve your dental health.
#2: Nutritious meals are great for teeth
The volunteer organisation implemented a school food program that cooked delicious traditional Cambodian meals. As a result, the kids in these communities had access to nutritious meals. We found they ate fewer sweets because they felt full and had energy. We also saw the amount of teeth problems reduce significantly.
In Australia, we live busy lives. Understandably, it can be hard to cook hearty meals every day for ourselves and our families. Diet and nutrition is beyond our expertise as dentists, but we do support our patients who want to explore it further.
Furthermore, regular cleans at the dentist can help reduce the impact that modern diets have on our teeth. This is why we recommend a dental clean every 6-12 months.
#3: Create dental care routines
Each day, when the kids arrived at school, they had to brush their teeth before they were allowed to eat their cooked meals. This formed a simple daily brushing routine. It was effective because it was easy to remember, with a delicious incentive to do it. For these kids, it was the only way to get them to brush their teeth because often they had no fixed home with running water in which to keep their toothbrush.
Our dentists in Blackburn are supportive of great brushing habits from an early age. Brushing twice per day is ideal but if you can’t manage brushing both morning and night, it’s the night time brush that’s most important. It’s important to brush off all the food and bacteria that’s accumulated during the day. Otherwise, if it’s left there overnight, that’s when the damage happens.
Another great habit to develop with kids are regular check-ups at the dentist from a young age. Kids often don’t see the dentist until they have dental problems. Unfortunately, this conditions children to feel anxious about dentist visits.
Instead, we encourage parents to introduce young children to the dentist with a simple check-up & clean. We can start check-ups and basic dental cleans with babies as young as 18 months.
Mlop Tapang in Cambodia delivers dental, medical and health services. They are a not-for-profit organisation funded entirely on donations and volunteers. For more information, you can visit their website at http://mloptapang.org/.