Before entering professional life as a dentist, how about going on a real adventure? Moritz Walter from Heidelberg University in Germany did just that when he started on his 4 weeks of dental volunteer work in Cambodia. Here he describes the exciting time he spent in a completely foreign country doing his clinical traineeship, a hands-on learning experience and an opportunity to give dental care to a deeply underserved community.
In November 2015, I decided to use my last semester break to set off on a small dental adventure. After a lot of internet research and many phone calls, I came across the Mini Molars project in Cambodia (MMC), which was just launched in 2015 to address the need for oral health care in Cambodia.
Knowing this was my opportunity to make a difference, my travel plans were decided.
With a lot of treatment material and even an X-ray machine in my luggage, I started off on my journey to a completely unfamiliar country. After two weeks of rest and relaxation, I began my four weeks of volunteer work in Phnom Penh. In the impoverished neighborhood, I treated both children and adults who depend on the help of volunteers.
First, we carried out a pain assessment for every patient. Then we discussed next steps with the Cambodian dentist. Next, the dentist talked things over with patients before I continued with the treatment.
However, due to the language barrier, lack of materials, and lack of hygiene, this was not always so easy. As the days went by, I was able to learn some important words in Khmer, Cambodia’s national language.
As it was unfortunately quite difficult to arrange appointments for patients, it seemed like the dental practice was totally overrun on some days.
Due to the lack of dental care, most patients came to us suffering from pain.
Often, tooth decay was so bad that it was too late to save the affected tooth. So to bring preventative care to the community, we went to a local non-governmental organization to advertise our free treatment and distribute tooth care products to everyone.
According to MMC, by the time a child reaches five years old in Cambodia, they can have around 5-10 teeth which show advanced decay. I witnessed this personally during my work.
On my last day of treatments, an 11-year-old boy with a toothache came into the practice. He had never, not even once, cleaned his teeth before in his life. After pulling his completely black baby teeth, I showed him how to brush his teeth.
Despite the living conditions in Cambodia, there was a prevailing atmosphere of harmony and happiness.
By accompanying the locals, we Germans had been given the opportunity to learn more about everyday life in Cambodia. My trip to Cambodia was the highlight of my studies. I experienced a lot of gratitude, gaining experience not only for my future profession, but also for life. I would also like to thank Henry Schein for its generous donations, without which such projects would probably not be possible.
By Mortiz Walter, Dental Student, Heidelberg University
Travelling from Germany to Cambodia is 5,734 miles!
How far have you traveled to deliver care? Tell us in the comments!