I still remember that moment of excitement when I saw boxes of supplies sitting in the living room when I came home after clinic. It was a generous gift donated by the Henry Schein Cares Foundation ready to be unpacked for the oral health awareness project in China. My sisters and my mom gathered around our dining table to prepare small oral health gift packages for the second and third graders who would participate in the oral health education and screening session. To be more efficient with packing, we worked in an assembly line fashion.
To make these packages more colorful and attractive, my friends had the awesome idea to add pencils and stickers to each bag. We prepared 120 goodie bags, each containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, pencil, and stickers.
After we arrived in Hong Kong, we took a bus for another 5 hours northwest of Hong Kong to arrive in Taicheng, a small town in the Taishan County in southern China. The current estimated population in Taicheng is 175,000 with 26 village communities. Although much of the town, like most parts of China, is in a developing stage, many areas are still farmland and old villages.
Due to a language requirement for this project, we only recruited three other volunteers: Lydia Ma, a current student at San Francisco State University in the master’s program studying in school counseling; Cynthia Ma, an administrative assistant at the University of California, San Francisco; and Robert Kong, a computer electrical engineer. Although they do not have background in the field of dentistry, we had a few training sessions in basic dental knowledge with applications of fluoride varnish to calibrate prior to the trip.
We were in Taishan for five days, from December 29, 2014 – January 2, 2015. We arrived at the schools with our luggages of supplies and were greeted warmly by the staff. We walked by a row of classrooms and some of the students were still in class studying quietly at old wooden desks with the teacher at the front of the room. Our oral health lesson and screening was to be held in their auditorium where there was more space for us to divide into groups for more interactive activities. I was surprised to find that as we entered the large room, the students were already quietly seated watching us curiously with their heads down on the desks.
Our lesson plan emphasized the importance of diet, the formation and progression of cavities, and proper oral hygiene techniques. The kids were full of excitement and participated actively in our short lessons. A group of teachers from other classes heard about our outreach program and decided to sit in for our large group lecture and discussions as well.
Every student rotated through the oral health screening corner and received an application of fluoride varnish. Our data shows that 17.8% of the 101 second grade students screened had mild caries, and 82.2 % had moderate to severe levels of caries. During the screening process, they asked many questions and most were unfamiliar with routine dental visits. Overall, our visit was a positive experience for many of the students because it gave them a warm and fun impression of dental outreach programs.
Before we said bye to each group of students, we would surprise them with goodie bags! They are as fun, active, and curious, as any second grader. We really wished we had more time to spend with all the kids. On our way leaving one of the schools, we met a student’s grandmother, who was there to pick up her grandchild. She could not thank us enough for coming to share our knowledge with the kids.
The department of education in Taishan wanted us to stay for one more day to visit a more rural village and share our experiences. Unfortunately, we did not plan for an extra session of screening and did not have enough time nor supplies. Perhaps that can be our next mission! Again, thank you Henry Schein Cares Foundation for making this event possible and memorable for the kids in Taishan!!