Jennie Birch Cambodia

After 18 months of planning, we were finally ready to set off on what was to be the most rewarding, exhausting and inspiring trip I have ever embarked on. We arrived about teatime on Sunday 5th November and it was straight to bed as we were up early the next day to set off again. On our first day, we drove from Phnom Penh to the Provence of Kampong Speu, where we linked up with a Cambodian charity called one2one. We stayed in a church that had hostel-style rooms, 6 to a room. The makeshift clinics were set up just outside of the rooms which made our commute to work incredibly easy. We had a few handpieces but no suctions or spittoons.

During this week we saw both adults and children, every patient had multiple rampant caries and needed a number of fillings and extractions. The queue never seemed to go down but we eventually managed to get through everyone by the end of each day. It was very uncomfortable working in the heat but the incredible team I travelled with definitely made it a lot easier.  After spending a week in Kampong Speu we packed up and headed back to the city of Phnom Penh.

Our last mission in Phnom Penh was to run a feeding clinic in the slums of the city. The slum huts sat only a metre or two on either side of a working railway line, and towered over the high-rise buildings of the city. The smell was a mixture of sewage and rubbish and whole families living in one dark room with no windows. Children were taking care of younger children.

When we arrived, the children were lined up and ready with their bowls and spoons. They appeared as if they had dressed in their best that day knowing we were coming. The food was rice, fried chicken and vegetables with a Sharon fruit for after. The children wouldn’t normally get chicken but because of the fundraising from Dentaid volunteers they were able to have this today. This project hit me hard. They sang to us before they were served which was just lovely and they were all so polite, gracious and calm. The meals were eaten in the school which was just a room put together with corrugated metal and some children ran home with the bowls, maybe to share the food with the family.

In our final week in Cambodia, we were in the Provence of Samlout which is only 12 miles from the Thai border. This week we were in the local schools treating children between the ages of 5-11. We ran a sealant program to help protect and prevent further tooth decay in these children. Nearly all of the children presented with a number of teeth that were decayed and broken down in both deciduous and adult teeth. On average every child had 8 of their deciduous teeth decayed, filled or missing. The sealant program allowed us to prevent the presence of decay spreading further and to seal adult teeth to help protect them for longer.

Sugar comes in abundance here and is found in every shop and street vendor’s stall with very little in terms of alternative healthy snacks for the children. Access to a dentist is limited to the few who are in pain if they can travel to a dentist and afford it.

There were 14 team members, 2 weeks, around 500 miles of travelling across Cambodia, 13 clinics and 565 patients seen and treated. I think we can all be very proud of these numbers and what we achieved during this trip. This trip wouldn’t have been possible with the Dentaid charity and the wonderful group of people I have been so lucky to work with these last 2 weeks. Thank you to every single person who has supported me with donations, materials and moral support.

Written by Jennie Birch – Dental therapist.