KAMPOT PROVINCE, Cambodia --
Dental providers from East Meets West, a non-governmental organization based in Vietnam, partnered with U.S., Cambodian, Australian, Vietnamese and Thai military counterparts as part of Pacific Angel 16-2, a multilateral humanitarian assistance/civil military mission, to provide the multitude of children basic dental examinations and, more importantly, educate them on the importance of proper dental hygiene.
“In Cambodia, there are so many people, not only children but also adults that still think that going to the dentist only involves extraction [of teeth],” said Minh Huong, the lead for the East Meets West - Dental NGO. “They don't think about how to prevent dental disease or dental decay, so it’s very important that we help educate the children.”
Minh stood in front of the crowd of nearly 200 children and explained how to brush their teeth properly using a large set of fake teeth and an oversized toothbrush. She also gave them pointers on when and how often they should brush.
“We teach them very simple lessons, three times a day, or at least two times a day they should brush their teeth, and especially before bedtime,” Minh said. “They can use a little toothpaste or even without toothpaste. They enjoyed it a lot.”
The children repeated and recited Minh’s direction over and over so they could remember the instructions. After which, each child received a toothbrush and toothpaste, then went to see one of the dentists or dental assistants, such as U.S. Navy Lieutenant Matthew Kanter, a dentist deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, who were ready to provide them a quick exam and fluoride treatment.
“We give the kids good looks, and provided basic treatment,” Kanter said. “With the resources we have available I think we did a great job bringing them in, showing them a good time, and hopefully have a positive impact.”
According to the local Cambodian dentists, a large portion of the rural populations in the country do not have the education or exposure to oral hygiene, so for some, this was likely the first time the children had been exposed to the importance of brushing their teeth.
“I hope that having at least been exposed to someone telling them it’s important might get them to start thinking about it,” Kanter said. “That's something that they never have had before and we were at least able to provide that service to 187 kids today.”
Starting early is key for dental health throughout an individual’s life Kanter said.
“It’s extremely important for kids to have good dental hygiene, even with primary teeth, if they get cavities it could cause infection or problems with their adult teeth too; so with any good habit, the earlier you start, the better you are,” Kanter said.
Minh emphasized that the children they brought in from the school are just beginning to replace their primary teeth with permanent teeth, making the oral hygiene education all that more important.
“The permanent teeth will be with them for life, so it will not help them if they don’t have the opportunity to take care of primary teeth, because of lack of knowledge, lack in care, or no oral hygiene education at school,” Minh said. “Now they have the knowledge to help them protect their teeth. It’s a great opportunity to help the people, adults and children in Kampot.”
The oral hygiene education day was planned by East Meets West NGO in partnership with the Kampot Provincial Health Clinic, but executed by both U.S., Australian and Cambodian dentists and volunteers, further building on the relationships formed throughout the Pacific Angel 16-2 mission.
“This is a great partnership between the U.S. Pacific Angel mission and also East Meets West - Dental,” Minh said. “The way we do dental care for the children and the people here, we combine the efforts.”
Pacific Angel is designed to promote interoperability with partner nations, while providing needed services to people throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The mission being conducted in Kampot Province includes general health, dental, optometry, pediatrics, physical therapy and engineering programs as well as various subject-matter expert exchanges.