Story & Photos by Linda Andresen & Andrea Rominger.
Dr Camy, an Indian dentist, moved to Kompiam in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea in 2018. She has been working with the dental team at the Kompiam District Hospital and recently travelled to Yenkisa on an MAF plane.
The Kompiam hospital’s dental team first visited Yenkisa in November 2018. On that visit, along with providing treatment and dental education, tooth brushes and Fluoride tooth paste samples were handed to children while educating them on how it should be used.
On a follow-up visit in March 2019, Dr Camy discovered that even though tooth paste and tooth brushes were handed out to the children in November last year, they were hardly using it.
So on this visit, children and adults were shown again how to brush their teeth as an activity. Two locals of the community, one man and one woman, were trained to teach more villagers the proper brushing technique.
In many developing countries there is a lack of dental health, but most people still have a tradition of cleaning their teeth regularly. Different methods are used such as salt, coconut shell, twigs and sand. In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, there is no tradition for cleaning teeth regularly, the majority of the population has never heard of tooth brushes and tooth paste. With the introduction of soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, biscuits and candies which contain processed sugar, there is an increasing need for fluoride based interventions to prevent cavities.
A common favourite among vast populations of Papua New Guineans is the chewing of Betel nut, which is addictive and contains psychoactive ingredients, causes erosion of enamel and destruction of gums and bone tissue, it is also carcinogenic, causing oral and throat cancers and has other adverse health effects on the entire body. Betel nut is mixed with slaked lime and mustard for flavour which results in the saliva turning red, thus staining teeth. Its anaesthetic effect on the teeth and gums makes it all the more in demand for people with rotting teeth, and the vicious cycle of destruction continues.
Dr Camy is working systematically. Every fortnight she and the dental team accompany the medical team to travel on patrol to different communities in the area. It takes them 10 to 30 minutes to fly to the different locations on an MAF aircraft. If they had gone there by foot it would have taken a couple of days and they would have had to stay overnight in the jungle. With MAF this health service becomes possible and much more effective.
When the group of health care personnel comes to a village, it can be anything between 40 to 300 patients they see. Dr Camy takes care of those who need dental care and she teaches children and adults how to brush their teeth. Educating communities on the adverse effects of Betel nut chewing, smoking of hand rolled, and store bought cigarettes and the harmful effects of processed sugars are the primary focus.
Dr. Camy talked about a patient whom she challenged to stop the everyday buying of biscuits and soft drinks for lunch for herself and her family and instead cook with the garden produce, which includes sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables and leaves. A few weeks later, the patient returned to Dr Camy and said she was following the advice and had now not only improved the dietary intake of nutritious food for herself and her family but also ended up saving a considerable amount of money.
“If it wasn’t for MAF, so many different doctors wouldn’t come to serve these people. We would have to walk for two days here and two days back and would have been away from the hospital for four days," says Dr. Camy.