By Mari Koivunen
Getting a dental treatment is not a matter of course in Papua New Guinea. On the contrary, the lack of infrastructure makes delivering health care services quite challenging in a country where 84% of the population lives in mostly inaccessible rural areas, often completely without electricity. But access to dental care is not completely ruled out, either.
Currently, there are four Planmeca Compact i Classic units on board a cruise vessel, which has been transformed into a modern medical centre. The ship is a way to bring healthcare services to the coastal areas of Papua New Guinea. Besides the dental clinic, the ship also includes a laboratory to test for tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases as well as an ophthalmology clinic for eye surgeries.
This year, the vessel was joined by a truck, which was recently equipped with three new Planmeca Compact i3 dental units. The truck, which reached the Papua New Guinean capital city Port Moresby in March, will soon start visiting local schools for dental screenings and educating the pupils of the importance of oral care. Educating children to take care of their teeth early on is essential, since the country has one of the highest rates of oral cancer in the world.
Support for local dentists with infrastructure and training
In addition to bringing medical and dental care and education to the local population, both vehicles are also used to offer local dentists the chance for practical training.
The medical vehicles are both initiatives by the Townsville association of a global humanitarian movement Youth with a Mission (YWAM). For the past 11 years, the volunteers of the association have been operating medical ships to Papua New Guinea to reach remote coastal communities and offer them medical care and training they would otherwise have no access to.
Now, the addition of the truck offers even more opportunities for providing dental care and education with a proper infrastructure. This also includes offering training in dental basic procedures for the local health workers. Although the country has a population of about nine million, there are currently only 62 dentists in the country, so the support is much needed.
“In the moving dental clinics, we primarily do simple dental procedures: extractions, restorations and cleanings,” said Melissa Kauk, a clinic and ship manager of the YWAM medical ship.
“We are also collaborating with locals to identify the people who will continue the work once the moving dental clinic leaves. We get these local health workers on board, couple them up with experienced dentists and upskill them in the simple procedures, so they are able to perform simple things in their villages as well. And once we come back, they also return on board for more upskilling,” Kauk explained.
According to Anna Scott, another volunteer who has been establishing the new base for the initiative in Port Moresby, the truck will provide a space for dental students and other dentists in the capital to have an ongoing training experience of providing dental screenings and treatments in the community.
Seeing a dentist is a privilege
Planmeca’s local distributor in Australia, Henry Schein, along with the global philanthropic Henry Schein Cares Foundation, donated the dental equipment for both vehicles. Initially, the collaboration started already 11 years ago and has continued ever since based on a like-minded willingness to provide dental care to communities, which barely have access to healthcare services.
“Henry Schein has been a huge supporter, providing consumables, supplies and equipment for the clinic. They also introduced us to Planmeca a few years back. Now, we have had Planmeca Compact i Classic dental units on board the ship for five years already and they have been excellent. Therefore, we were excited to have the new Planmeca Compact i3 units installed on our new truck, too,” Scott said.
The Planmeca dental units have allowed hundreds of locals the chance for proper dental care, which they often need. Kauk has been working as a volunteer in the medical ship for five years now and witnessed how much relief proper dental care can bring. One man even paddled in his canoe for seven hours to get his tooth removed in the medical ship, as he had been in pain for years.
“Many patients come in with a tooth ache they have not been able to get rid of. Some of them have even tried to remove their teeth by themselves, because they are in so much pain. It is very special for them to come aboard and receive dental care with these state-of-the-art Planmeca chairs – the same level of care we are used to,” Kauk said.
“Here, seeing a dentist is a privilege, not something to dread for,” she concluded.
Images courtesy of YWAM Mercy Ships