Overcoming Obstacles to Oral Health in Burma

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In regions like Lake Inle in Burma (Myanmar), poor oral health is the result of multiple factors working against the community. Dental facilities and resources are not accessible; generally, people have poor diet and oral hygiene habits; and most people are unable to afford dental treatment.

To focus specifically on tackling these challenges, the aptly named organization, Burmadent, brings free oral health care and education to the Burmese people.

Founders Sharon Bierer and Dr. Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen first provided dental care in Lake Inle in 2012, along with two Burmese dentists and a Team Schein Member from Henry Schein UK’s Software of Excellence. Since then, the program has grown, become a registered nonprofit, and continued to provide dental treatment to communities in Burma.

In this blog, Sharon Brier reflects on her most recent trip with Burmadent, recounting a vivid picture of the Burmese people and life in Lake Inle.


This March, our group of seven volunteers — four of whom are dentists — treated 626 patients in eight and a half working days.

It was a hot and rigorous trip; we traveled down long untarmacked roads to remote rural areas, living and working in accommodations with no running water and often little electric supply.

We treated people under the stairs of a monastery.

Meanwhile, a traditional novitiation procession passed by, with hundreds of families dressed in satin and silk, parading on horses, about to offer their children up to the monastery for two weeks novitiate.

Performing dental work
We slept on wooden slats at the monastery that supports the lakeside village and watched the sun go down over Lake Inle in a blue haze.

There was not an electric boat in sight, just two traditional Inthar fishermen rowing themselves home.

Canoes

 

Our final day was a two-hour bumpy drive down the western side of the lake.

Burmadent has two mobile dental units with two patient chairs each, which allow us to bring dental care to schools and remote areas.

We set up in an open room with no water or electricity and were watched constantly by a group of Pa’O women. They were dressed in black floor-length dresses, trimmed with the color of their tribe, and wore brightly colored towels on their heads.

We distributed leaflets to educate the community on maintaining good oral health, which had to be read to them by a hastily located Pa’O English speaker, as none of the Pa’O read.

Living conditions are very rough indeed
Living conditions are very rough indeed

A little Pa’O girl in her headdress, waiting for treatment
A little Pa’O girl in her headdress, waiting for treatment

 

We visited an orphanage, and as I’ve seen so often on these trips, plenty of children had mouths filled with blackened stumps of teeth, sometimes infected.

The choices the dentists have to make are difficult.

 

Teeth

However, we’re beginning to see the effects of fluoride varnish, which we’ve given to children in the orphanage consistently for three years.

We have to thank Henry Schein and VOCO for their unstinting help for these desperately underserved people. Without their and our volunteers’ generosity, none of this could happen.


Written by Sharon Bierer, Trustee and Administrator of Burmadent

Burmadent is supported by Henry Schein UK

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