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Volunteer Dentistry Overseas: Students and Faculty Participate in Mission Trip to Fiji

April  12, 2012

A group of Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry students and faculty spent the recent school spring break volunteering their time and talents overseas. For 10 days in March, 22 students, eight faculty and three guests traveled to across the Pacific Ocean to provide dental care to villagers in the remote island area of Moala Village, Fiji. The Fiji trip has taken place unofficially for many years, but recently has become an international trip officially recognized and endorsed by the dental school.

Throughout this year's trip, volunteers treated nearly 230 unique patients, with many patients visiting the clinic over multiple days for extensive treatment that could not be accomplished in one visit. In total more than 270 teeth were extracted and nearly 200 fillings were placed by Dugoni School volunteers. Patient ages ranged from young children to elderly villagers.

While extractions and fillings were necessary for many patients, the recent focus of the Fiji trip has turned to an emphasis on prevention and education of the villagers. With each annual trip to Fiji, volunteers are seeing the effects of past efforts, including less tooth decay in certain patients that have received oral hygiene instruction and preventative care in previous years. This year, dental school volunteers also implemented an official charting system to better track patients that seek treatment from year to year.

Student and faculty participants have noted the excitement villagers have for the dental school's annual visit to Moala Village. To welcome volunteers at the start of the trip, the village will host a traditional kava ceremony which inducts the volunteers as temporary members of the community, thus making them eligible to provide care per Fijian customs. While the primary goal of the trip is to provide dental care to those in need, students and faculty volunteers also are exposed to a new culture, which offers learning opportunities that can benefit future patient interactions in dental school and beyond.

"Each year that we go to Fiji, we are privileged to witness the gratitude of a people and the personal growth of our students," said Zenitra Kumar, Class of 2012 and one of this year's Fiji trip student leaders. "Pacific's presence will hopefully translate into an improvement in oral health for a region of Fiji that has been deemed the worst nationally. If we can leave the people of Moala better off for having known us, then that is success."

The Fiji trip was started by dental school alumnus Karl Brose '72, who helped establish a permanent dental clinic in the remote area of Moala Village where Dugoni School volunteers return to each year. Participating dental students are a mix of second- and third-year students, with many third-year students having been a volunteer the previous year and thus acting as trip mentors. The most recent trip's student leaders were Kumar and her classmates Andrew Tadros and Benjamin Brooks. Participating faculty members were oriented and calibrated with an emphasis on caries risk assessment by Dr. Allen Wong, director of hospital dentistry. Wong and a handful of his dental school faculty colleagues have been involved with the Fiji trip for many years.

This year, Henry Schein Cares generously donated thousands of dollars worth of consumable supplies — such as glass ionomers, fluoride varnish and gloves — which volunteers brought to Fiji with them. Other supplies and dental instruments were loaned to trip volunteers by the dental school's Main Clinic.

Category Type: Special Events, Community Outreach

Contact:  Office of Public Relations, 415.929.6434, pr@pacific.edu