The Dental Clinic serves as not only a treatment space, but also helps patients by educating them on what kinds of foods to eat to avoid dental problems, as well as prmoting oral hygiene.
The MTC Dental Clinic opened in 2001, operating three days a week as an adjunct part of the surgery department. At first the clinic had limited resources, with just a couple of dental mirrors and tools for extraction. The surgical medics that attended dental training in Bili Htoo saw three to five patients a day.
Over the years the clinic has received help and support from generous volunteers, including Dr Michael Travis from the United States, who has visited the clinic since 2004 and has donated much of the equipment; and Dr Bo-Im from South Korea, who trained the medics to perform root canals in 2008.
Today the dental clinic is an independent department with a staff of 11. It has new facilities with three donated chairs and high speed pneumatic dental drills. The specially trained staff see 20 to 30 patients each day.
For impoverished patients, it is common to delay treatment until an infection rages out of control. Patients are forced to spend their savings on one visit to the doctor in Burma, making prevention and early treatment impossible. The medics recall the sad story of a 9 year old girl whose father brought her to the clinic from Burma with a fever and swollen face caused by an infected tooth. The dental medics wanted to admit her to the pediatric ward, but her father had to return to Burma for work. They gave the family antibiotics and asked them to come back for a follow-up. By the time the girl returned, the bacteria had spread to her bloodstream. They sent her to Mae Sot hospital but it was too late; she died of septicemia.
Almost all the patients seeking dental care at MTC have never before visited a dentist. In addition to their primary complaint, eight out of 10 patients also have cavities they aren’t aware of. The problem, dental medics say, is that most patients have little education and don’t understand the importance of oral hygiene.
“Dental care is very important,” says one medic. “It is a part of health. Before, people didn’t understand. They only [associate] malaria and diseases like that with health. [A tooth infection] starts because of lack of knowledge about how to clean and take care of the mouth. It gets worse, sometimes turning into an abscess if you do not get appropriate treatment. Lots of suffering, pain, fever. It can cause osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone.”
The staff know that prevention is the best treatment, and they try to improve oral health through activities for the children, teaching them how to brush their teeth; our new Child Recreation Centre is now able to help with this kind of education, turning learning about oral hygiene into fun games for the children at MTC. Through the school health program, which operates in 58 migrant schools, the medics from the dental clinic use didactic tools to demonstrate the difference between good and bad food and the importance of dental care. They also warn children not to chew betel nut, which is very popular amongst the Burmese population, because this increases the risk of oral cancer. The clinic diagnoses many cases of oral cancer, but due to the lack of resources staff can only help with pain medication.
Challenges and Looking to the Future
For some time, the dental department has had a shortage of instruments, as they are not available for purchase locally, thus they must be ordered from Bangkok, which means they can take a long time to arrive at the Clinic.
The dental medics dream of being able to offer x-rays and dentures some day. In the short term they hope to acquire small dental instruments, a copy of Color Atlas Endodontics and a dental surgery book.