SEMIAHMOO DENTAL OUTREACH: November 24 to December 5, 2014
In November 2014, the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach team travelled for the fifth time to the Philippine Island of Siquijor. Our group of 27 included five dentists (Ken Stones, Murray Bohn, Bob Symonds, Rand Barker and Roger Spink), several hygienists and CDA dental assistants, five Kwantlen University nursing students and two instructors, three 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.
Siquijor is an island of just about 90,000 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.
As before, we set up our clinic in the large dormitory in Solangon Elementary School. We had five dental units, one station for extractions and a triage area. Over nine 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.
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 support 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. (All personal expenses, including travel and accommodation, were paid by team members themselves.)
Education and Prevention
The Siquijor 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 2013 .
Nursing students were an extremely valuable resource to our team. They undertook three prevention programs and were able to speak to parents and students in many schools on the island. All the schools on Siquijor have had the prevention presentation at least once in the past five years, most more than once. 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.
We make an effort to set in motion prevention measures that will be ongoing after we leave. 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 have seen in November. Our influence in Solangon has 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 have been 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.
Building on past initiatives, this year we made some important headway towards dental education about prevention. The lack of dental preventive education is quite disturbing. When contrasted with the information the public receives in Canada, itâ€™s obvious the Filipino dental organizations do virtually nothing to increase public awareness. Medical information is distributed to the public but not dental as far as I could see. Even the link between sugar and caries is not known by the majority of the people we talk to. Instead, residents of Siquijor seem to view decay as a mysterious affliction that affects just about everyone!
This year I had two meetings with the Governor and five of the six mayors of Siquijor, none of whom I had been able to meet with before. I explained the futility of treatment without prevention in the schools. I also talked about nursing bottle syndrome, which is a rampant problem on Siquijor. There is virtually no knowledge about its cause. We received a lot of interest from the governor, the health clinic supervisors and about half of the mayors, The heads of all six island health clinics were in attendance and they pledged to include the prevention of nursing bottle syndrome in their pre/post natal care programs. The local Rotary Club will follow up on this.
This year we also saw significant gains in the childrenâ€™s dental health, but only in the schools that have a preventive program in place. Over 55% of students in Solongon School, for two years in a row now, were caries free. In 2010 only two children out of the 250 pupils were caries free. Solongon School is a successful working model of what can be achieved, and we need the other schools to follow suit. We look forward to seeing more signs of healthier children next year. As the Solongon School has demonstrated, it can be done!
Siquijor is a small Province with a small bureaucracy, so the possibility of change is very real. My hope is that there will be a change made following the example of Solangon school. The principal who implemented the improvement in that school is now the president of the Siquijor Rotary Club.
Permanent Dental Clinic Confirmed
Just after returning home in mid December, I was told that two local Rotary Clubs have decided to fund a renovation in Siquijor to establish a permanent dental clinic for visiting foreign dentists. The cost will be shared between the Semiahmoo and Peace Arch Rotary clubs from the White Rock/ South Surrey area. This will greatly increase the treatment available for the children of Siquijor.