For the fourth consecutive year, the Dental Project is doing the rounds of the 17 PSE Summer Camps. According to the coordinator, Alvaro Paternina, better known as Pater, this project was conceived by a monitor who was deeply moved by the critical state of the children’s teeth at PSE. At the time, PSE would send children to private dental clinics and waste a lot of money in the process. “In 2012, when the project got a grant from the Spanish Dental Board, the first dental clinic opened in PSE. A little later, with the help of another grant, a mobile clinic was built to help the children in the smaller villages around Phnom Penh.” To insure continuity during the summer, and to expand the project to prevention classes for the children, the dental project for the summer camps began. The aim was to host preventive workshops, distribute toothbrushes, and treat more children at the summer camps who came from remote villages, with no access to dental treatment.
This year, five European monitors and five Khmers make up the dental team. For the first two weeks the camp was coordinated by Luis, who sadly had to leave before the end. Soledad, monitor and student, said: “We teach songs, make posters, and give presentations to explain the importance of dental hygiene and how to take care of your teeth. Each child gets a toothbrush and toothpaste and we wash our teeth all together morning and afternoon in the showers at the camp.”
The dentists have to work in unconventional conditions to set up their clinic in all the communities. “Some places don’t have running water, light or electricity, and the spaces are very small”, remarks Soledad. Although Ramon, who is part of the team, thinks that these obstacles are definitely learning opportunities. The dentists all agree that the biggest challenge is communicating with the children. Even with the help of the Khmer students who help them translate and calm the children, they struggle with reassuring the children and letting them know what they are doing.
In the future, the dental camp awaits really positive results with the prevention workshops. “We expect the children to maintain their dental hygiene and to learn to care of it themselves to avoid future tooth removals. We hope that in 3 to 4 years the older children will only need prevention classes” explains Pater. He happily points out that over the years he has already been able to witness an improvement in dental hygiene.
What the dentists are most surprised about is how brave the children are. Ramon notices that “they almost never cry; they don’t complain about the pain, but show gratitude instead. Their teeth have been hurting for months, so the worst is already behind them. The removal is the easy part. Although some are scared of us at the start, they leave the clinic happy and relieved.”