In April 2014, the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach (SDO) team returned to work with East Meets West (EMW) for the third time since 2009.

The SDO team consisted of six dentists and a hygienist from the Lower Mainland. We were accompanied by three final year UBC dental students. The team was led by Ken Stones and Les Ennis. We worked from a clinic set up with mobile equipment in an elementary school in Kontum, in the central highlands of Vietnam.

Over five days we treated more than 700 children, doing restoration, sealants, extractions where required, and preventive care (fluoride varnish and OHI). Our standard restorative material is amalgam due to its proven longevity and decreased recurrent caries susceptibility. We also frequently use glass ionomer for large various lesions. The EMW numbers showed over 2250 dental services done, including 330 restorations, over 220 extractions and preventive services for all children. The total value of the treatment was USD $113,850 (Alaskan fee guide).

Many of the patients were children who had received previous dental care by other EMW teams, which run a yearly clinic at the school. We felt the clinic was very successful in improving the dental health of the children. It was also a very gratifying experience for the Canadians, especially the mentoring practicum for the dental students.

The SDO team once again worked with the Vietnamese NGO, EMW. Our team consisted of six BC dentists (Ken Stones, Les Ennis, David Larsen, Joan Eaton, Janis Boyd and Monica Kasperza ), one hygienist (Christine Penn), and three final-year UBC dental students (Tarn Dhillon, Phil Hou, and Lindsay Flumerfelt ). The EMW team was made up of about a dozen dental professionals and staff. With the clinic equipment and supplies, in three vehicles we all drove from Da Nang to the central highland city of Kontum, an 8-hour trip (without the breakdowns that one of our vehicles experienced).

The clinic was set up in an elementary school of several hundred students. The recently built school is exclusively for the Kontum “minorities” (Vietnamese term). The area was originally settled by several ethnically diverse “hill tribe” groups who live in the highlands of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and SE China. Our patients were drawn from the school and six “minority” orphanages in the area. The hill tribe children speak several languages and wore their traditional dress to welcome us on the first and last days at the clinic.

EMW is a fabulous Vietnamese NGO to work with. It was founded by Le Ly Hayslip to improve the lives of women and children after the Vietnam war (www.eastmeetswest.org). They have a permanent clinic in Da Nang from which operate many mobile clinics each year. This allows foreign dental professionals to volunteer alongside EMW staff.

While in Kontum, we met with a group of sponsors who look after the orphanages, the international foundation Friends of VSO Orphanages (www.FriendsofVSO.org). Many of these sponsors were American veterans of the Vietnam War who are “trying to right some of the wrongs [they] did.”

As part of our standard treatment, we use amalgam as our primary default material due to its superior properties. Many of the children we see on our overseas volunteer trips will likely never again have access to restorative treatment, so the long-term success of our restorations is very important. In the overseas patients we have come in contact with, we have observed the routine failure of composite restorations, and the contrasting success of amalgam and glass ionomer restorations. (Research of course has repeatedly verified these results.)

An exciting component of the April 2014 clinic was the inclusion of the three final year UBC dental students. Over the week, they gained significant treatment experience under the direct mentorship of the SDO team. Each day, the students were paired with a dentist in the assistant role. This allowed for a one-on-one mentorship process with direct feedback available during treatment procedures. Grads and students alike valued the learning and effectiveness of this approach. The following are their comments:

“My experience on the East meets West Vietnam trip with Ken Stones, Les Ennis and all the other amazing participants was nothing short of life-changing. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this incredible trip and wish that everyone in my class could have had an equal experience. The impact that this trip had on me is difficult to overstate. It was an adventure capping my dental schooling, where I learned from and was mentored by some fantastic dentists and I made many great friends. And at the same time this experience profoundly changed my perspective of what it was to be a dentist… In dental school I was one of (too) many. I was part of the largest dental school class ever graduating from UBC, I practiced in an endless sea of gopher-hole operatories, I begged and bartered for another molar RCT to perform, I heard endless stats about the state of the profession stating that the industry was saturated in my hometown. We even entered a lottery to be chosen to volunteer at the free clinics around Vancouver. In dental school, the impression I got was that the supply outpaced the demand for my skills and that to survive in this industry meant to compete (albeit professionally) for patients. When I arrived in Vietnam I worked on children who would maybe never otherwise have seen a dentist …and a lightbulb illuminated. There I realized that my skills were very much needed and I was one of relatively few people who could help them. There were other volunteers who remarked that while they could provide blankets and food and sometimes money to these orphaned children, what they really needed was someone with the right skills to come and roll up their sleeves. It was then that I fully realized the responsibility that comes with the privilege of my education. My education isn’t just for me – to help me get a decent paying job, nor is it just to help people who could easily choose another dentist down the street. Providing care for people who are in need of my special skills is an obligation, not an option. It is part of my job as a dentist and decent human being to make myself available to them. I will never forget that lesson.”
Lindsay Flumerfelt
UBC DMD 2014

“This trip was the perfect end to my dental school education and a great beginning to my career in private practice. The experience, as a whole, was eye opening and I feel so grateful to have been able to provide real care to children at the grassroots level. Aside from the sheer joy that I felt in being able to help those less fortunate, I acquired a great deal of confidence in restorative dentistry and learned a lot throughout my time in Vietnam. In the future, I will not hesitate to take part in programs that provide dental services to areas in need. ”
Tarn Dhillon

“I had the privilege of participating in the East Meets West elective during my final months of my 4th year. The Vietnamese people were as warm as the blistering sun of Vietnam. It was incredible that, as young clinicians, we were able to participate in volunteer dentistry in a foreign setting. One of the biggest motivators for me coming into dental school was to help people, and thanks to the dedicated staff, this experience showed me the difference a small group of dedicated individuals are able to achieve. Furthermore, the mentorship from the volunteer dentists and the clinical experience helped me to become much more prepared for practice after dental school. I strongly believe this experience helped me to become a much more skilled and compassionate dentist. Lastly, I can’t say enough positive things about the friendship I was able to develop from this life changing experience. I will always look back on the final months of my dental school with fondness and I hope the future students of UBC dentistry will also have the opportunity to participate in such a great personal and professional educational opportunity.”

Phil Huo

The team looks forward to working with dental students again in future outreach trips.

Finally, we wish to express our extreme gratitude for the financial support of the Canadian division of the International College of Dentists.