Intrepid orthodontist scales heights in aid of Nepalese oral health
Delivering dental care to a village in the Samagon region of Nepal is what you could call extreme dentistry. The villagers have never received professional dental care. Ever. At an altitude of 3800 m the body begins to change in order to survive on reduced oxygen levels; typically, your respiration becomes deeper and you produce more red blood cells. You are a six-day trek away from the nearest town of Kathmandu. The Samagon region is the epitome of remoteness. Additional challenges include cold, damp weather and limited access to electricity. And the community could do with a dentist or two.
This is where Dr Julian Haszard, and orthodontist from New Zealand currently based in London, recently led an oral health team from 20 August to 1 September in conjunction with a medical and food-aid mission run by the United Nations World Food Programme. As co-founder of oral health aid organisation, Smile High, with Dr Mingma Nuru Sherpa, Julian has volunteered in Nepal since 2003. Having conquered Mt Everest in 2004, Julian used his climb to raise the initial funds that were needed to establish SmileHigh. For this latest expedition, he was joined by four dentists and two local dental therapists on a 10 day oral health camp, providing basic oral health care, education, toothbrushes and fluoride toothpaste to Samagon villagers.
Providing oral healthcare
“It is amazing to see how appreciative people have been to receive treatment,” said Dr Shekha Bhuva, a London-based volunteer dentist who took part in the expedition. “It was sad to hear that some people had to travel up to four hours on foot from surrounding villages to see us. It has definitely put my day-to-day hassles and problems into perspective!” Shekha continued. The need for medical and dental work here is high and for many people this was the first time they had ever had a dental check-up. “Many had been suffering with abscessed and decayed teeth for years. Anyone who has ever experienced dental pain knows that this is no joke,” she said.
The clinical area where treatment was administered was equipped with variable speed handpieces, forceps, elevators and filling materials. “All patients were recorded on pre-printed record sheets and after triage by Mingma, sent to either a restorative room for fillings and scaling or to the extraction area to have teeth pulled out. In total, the group treated 400 patients, extracted about 200 teeth and saved at least 100 teeth with preventive fillings,” she added. In addition, all patients were given a toothbrush and toothpaste with instructions on their use.
“I am very happy and proud of the way the SmileHigh dental team worked together in Samagon,” Julian reported. “Mingma’s leadership was a real highlight, in particular the way he interacted with the local people; his translation skills and empathy was of huge value. Pasang and Sareena, our SmileHigh dental therapists worked extremely well and became good friends of all the team members. I also could not have had a better group of clinicians on this trip,” he added.
Continuous need for care
The volunteers quickly became aware of the impact on the community of having limited access to medical and dental care. “To go from having significant health services in one moment and then to having nothing highlights the real challenges for the people here. Two days after the medical team departed, I found myself suturing a significant wound to a porter’s hand and dealing with a puncture wound above a one-year-old child’s eye. It’s a tough six-day trek to Kathmandu or a long and very expensive helicopter ride. The people here are so vulnerable to medical and dental situations which cascade out of control,” he explained.
Julian has a very pragmatic philosophy to his work with SmileHigh and the reason why he devotes so much of his time to helping people in Nepal: “When I see solution to a problem I find it difficult to accept that it should remain a problem. Despite the challenges involved in doing this type of work I cannot see a valid reason why I should not try my best to help people who need help. I sincerely believe that the biggest danger facing humanity right now is that of wasted human potential, as I am certain that the solutions that are needed do exist.”
Pursuing even greater heights
This dental mission was not the final summit for Julian this year. Shortly after the Samagon trip, Julian began to prepare for his next challenge: climbing the eighth highest mountain in the world, Mt Manaslu. From 2 September to 10 October, Julian will take part in a six week expedition led by Russell Brice. Julian aims to raise NZD$27,000 or NZD$1 for every foot of that he climbs of the 26,759 foot mountain in order to secure SmileHigh's funding until 2013 which will enable further dental aid missions to be undertaken.
“For me to climb like this again is a huge opportunity and something that can happen only a few times in anyone’s life. The motivation to climb Manaslu is different to the motivation I had to climb Mt Everest. The drive that surged through me to reach the world’s highest mountain is a unique drive. The drive to climb Manaslu is different, it is more about the pursuit of adventure, passion to climb high mountains, to reach my potential and also to bring support and awareness to SmileHigh. This will be an exciting six weeks!” Julian reported before embarking on his next challenge.
Donations can be made via www.haszard.co.nz
. Every NZD$50 donated receives a ticket in a draw to win an Everest photo signed by Sir Edmund Hillary. More importantly, you will be expressing your support for exciting initiative based on the principles of promoting oral health access for all.