In November 2013, the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach team travelled for the fourth time to the Philippine Island of Siquijor. Our group of 25 included five dentists (Ken Stones, Gord Blondahl, Murray Bohn, Bob Symonds and Grant Rawstron-all from the BC lower mainland), several hygienists and CDA dental assistants, two Kwantlen University nursing students and an instructor, four RNs and several other volunteers. Our goals were to treat the children of four elementary schools in the village of San Juan, and to teach caries preventive measures to as many residents as possible. For the first time, we travelled with a second team, of thirteen. They were from Mission, BC, and were based in another location on the other side of the Island. There were 3 dentists and 10 other volunteers in that group, mostly from the Mission Rotary Club.
Siquijor is an island of just about 100,000 people, with a very low average income. Due to the huge sugar consumption and poor knowledge of the sugar-caries cause-effect, there is a very high caries rate on the island. Although three government-employed dentists on the island do relief of pain by extracting teeth, we observed very little restorative work and what we saw was of a very poor quality, resulting in iatrogenic damage in each patient we saw.
As before, we set up our clinic in the large dormitory in Solangon Elementary School. We had four dental units, and one station for extractions and a triage area. Over nine and a half days, we saw about 650 children, restored hundreds of teeth, and had to extract many teeth that were beyond saving. We also applied fluoride varnish to every patient, and left trained people to re-apply the varnish treatment six months later. The other team also saw many children and were able to apply the preventive varnish to all their patients. The varnish was purchased through the generous funding from the Semiahmoo Rotary Club.
We owe the clinic’s extreme success to many participants, especially the team members whose dedication and enthusiasm made it happen. They worked hard and uncomplainingly under difficult circumstances. The success of the trip was bolstered by the generous support of the ICD whose donations were used to purchase supplies and equipment. We also received funding support from the Semiahmoo Rotary Club to assist us in purchasing supplies and helping the Siquijor Rotary Club projects, and from individual members of the South Surrey community, which we passed on to the Siquijor Rotary Club. Our funds continue to supply prescription glasses to the school children of Siquijor. It is extremely rare to see anyone on Siquijor wearing glasses. This is because of the complete lack of eye testing and the expense of obtaining glasses.
The Siqujor Rotary Club makes a huge difference in enabling us to concentrate on the clinical work. They had everything in place for our arrival, provided about 20 volunteers each day, transported children to and from the clinic, and took care of any needs as they arose. They welcomed us back this year, and helped us build on our work from 2010 to 2012. They also greatly assisted the other team.
Nursing students were an extremely valuable resource to our team. They undertook three prevention programs and were able to speak to parents and students at about 22 schools on the island. All the schools on Siquijor have had the prevention presentation at least once in the past four years. They had prepared by researching and developing power point presentations on caries prevention, healthy nutrition, and parasite infection prevention. The caries prevention presentation was customized to show Filipino snack foods and photographs from our triage station of badly broken down mouths. The nursing students gave approximately 22 presentations at several elementary schools where the parents were present, many high schools and several PTA meetings with hundreds of parents in attendance.
We make an effort to set in motion prevention measures that would be ongoing after we left. We train local women to continue the preventive power point presentations at schools after our departure, and re-apply fluoride varnish to the several hundred students we saw in November. Our influence in Solangon led to several meetings between the Solangon School principal, a Rotary club member, and the local small store owners who are located adjacent to every school on the island. These shop keepers sell large amounts of inexpensive candy and pop to the children with devastating results. At the meetings, they were encouraged to look into alternative snacks that are more nutritious and less damaging. This has met with limited success. Dental education of the shop keepers is badly needed as we noticed their children were amongst the worst of the rampant caries patients we saw. Progress is being made on this front, as less sugary snacks are being offered for sale now at some shops.
In the week after the work project, Dr. Stones had a meeting with the newly elected vice-governor of the Province of Siquijor and the assistant school superintendant to discuss the best means for improving awareness of dental health through prevention. Based on this discussion, he believes that dental caries prevention will be part of the school curriculum in the near future. This is the first time in our four years there that any local official has taken an interest in our work. Siquijor is a small Province with a small bureaucracy, so the possibility of change is very real.
This year we also saw significant gains in the children’s dental health. Those in Solongon School who are caries free in their permanent dentition receive an award at the school’s closing ceremonies in December. There were only seven qualifying children in 2011, of the 250 pupils. In 2012, that number grew to 85! This clinic saw over 130 students that qualified!!! Needless to say, the 2013 dental team was extremely pleased with that news. Solongon School is a working successful model of can be achieved, and the school superintendant said he would try to copy their success. We look forward to seeing more signs of healthier children next year. In the week after the work project, Dr. Stones met with the newly elected officials of the Province of Siquijor and the assistant school superintendant to discuss the best means for improving awareness of dental health through prevention. Based on this discussion, he believes that dental caries prevention will be part of the school curriculum in the near future. We are very hopeful that real change will be brought about in the near future. As the Solongon School has demonstrated, it can be done!