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Friday, April 06, 2012

Dentists give hope to Cambodians

By Dan Marcinkowski, Edmonton Journal

In less than two weeks, more than 1,000 patients were treated in Cambodia by members of the Alberta-based volunteer group Kindness in Action.

"We basically did a full range of dental care for patients," said Dr. Kevin Lobay, a clinical lecturer in both dentistry and the department of emergency medicine at the University of Alberta. "We made sure that patients were fully treated, not just doing one part and moving on to the next patient."

Lobay, along with 15 other Canadians, made the overseas trip in mid-February. Once in Cambodia, local volunteers, mostly translators, joined the cause and the team grew to more than 25 members made up of dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, physicians and pharmacists.

Lobay,who is trained as both a dentist and emergency medicine physician, helped many children. Many of the kids had major tooth decay, some so bad that all of their teeth had to be removed, while others simply needed numerous fillings. "Many of these patients have never seen a dentist," Lobay said. "Every patient is unique and obviously important. We worked on some very poor people in Cambodia that have no other resources or opportunities to have their medical or dental problems addressed."

One memorable moment was of a patient who had severely decayed teeth and needed her wisdom teeth out. There is a myth in Cambodia that the removal of wisdom teeth will cause blindness. The patient asked Lobay if she was going to go blind and Lobay promised the patient that she would be OK.

After her teeth were pulled, he asked if she could still see. She said yes, laughing.

The satisfaction of helping people is what Lobay will remember most about his journey to Cambodia. "You take away a life experience that you can't get any other way."

The crew had to bring their own equipment, including generators, because power is unreliable there.

This was the fifth time in the past seven years that Lobay travelled overseas to help those in need. He has volunteered in the Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru through Kindness in Action. "Not sure where we are going next. We will have a meeting to discuss where to go next year," he said.

The dental charity provides free dental care in areas around the world for those who have limited or no access to dental care. Kindness in Action also helps to fill needs beyond dentistry including work on building schools and setting up clinics.

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