Dental Mission in the Maskelynes

Dental Mission in the Maskelynes – Robyn Watson

Prepared with toothbrushes and educational material I arrived at the Batis Bungalows and was sent by boat the next day to Avockh Village. In spite of the weather we persevered in the outboard for about 30 min to arrive in a muddy landing at Avockh. I was brought ashore and settled into a ‘guest house,’ consisting of 2 concrete rooms with mats on the floor, and asked to wait.

About 10 mins later I was told that we were going to the school ‘by boat’I was led to the waters edge where my outrigger canoe was waiting with 3 lovely Ni-Vanuatu ladies to escort me to the school. All the children get in their child sized outrigger canoes every day to pole their way across to the school. Quite an adventure, as after many years in Vanuatu this was my first ride in an Outrigger canoe and I loved it!  The ladies giggled in disbelief.

I spent time in three classrooms of different primary ages and managed to have time to have a look at the children’s teeth.  Happily, I found them to be very healthy with 1-2 children with visible caries.

There are no available refined sugars or carbohydrates in their diet as they are quite remote from any shops where these items are sold, so they live on the natural products of the land and sea.  More evidence to add to the ‘sugar tax’ argument!

They had considerable knowledge of how to brush 3x per day. Unfortunately, few of them had toothbrushes so these were handed out (many donated by Henry Schein)

Next day I went to a school on Uluveu, the island where we were staying. Trudging along in a tropical storm to get there with my bag of toothbrushes and visual aids, we arrived and I was given 15 minutes per class. The little ones learned the tooth brushing song(written by my students at the University of Sydney):

Brushem tooth, brushem tooth

Two time long one day, two time long one day

Round and round mn circle, round and round im circle

Rinsem spit, rinsem spit (Bislam)

I was given more time with the high school students. I have found that one of the biggest problems with Ni-Vanuatu adults is periodontal (gum) disease, so whenever I get the chance I talk to the teenagers and young adults (and any adults who will listen) about the importance of ‘cleaning in between” to prevent bone loss and loss of teeth from periodontal disease.

With the aid of a graphic video about the stages of periodontal disease, the students were paying attention and asked lots of questions about how to prevent this ‘infection’ and what could they do if they already have it.

The local brooms are made of pandanus fronds that have the raw material for a local toothpick. The thinner end for small spaces and the thicker part for larger spaces, perfect for cleaning in between, as floss etc. is not available.

It was still raining when we headed back to to our bungalows, drenched but satisfied that maybe we made a little difference to the dental health of the local children, and future adults.