An Australian Team of Dental Volunteers visited Timor-Leste in July 2018.

This is Their Story!

Our Dental Team of Dentist Dr John Denton, Hygienist Lyn Carman, and Dental Assistant Jodie Billinger, arrived in Dili full of excitement and anticipation. We were met at the airport by Joaquim Soares, Director of Klibur Domin, and Patricia McDonell, our Rotary Team Leader. Joaquim shepherded us through customs with our 90 kilograms of dental instruments and supplies. We had each filled our cases full of dental stuff and carried all our clothes for the 10-day adventure in our back packs. We quickly made ourselves at home in the new, very comfortable, Klibur Domin volunteer cottage.

Next morning, we were keen to meet our new local Dental Therapists, Efi, Luis and Maria. Luis and Maria graduated from Dili University, and Efi did a similar course in Indonesia. Their training enables them to perform simple diagnosis and treatment of dental diseases, including fillings, extractions, Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) use, scalings and oral hygiene instruction (OHI).

Dr Ian Ridley and I were very pleased when these local clinicians came on board the KD Dental Clinic Project. Co-operation between Maluk Timor and KD has advanced the KD Dental Project three to four years ahead of our projections. Our Australian volunteer dental team roles have changed from us doing everything, to doing some of the operating and much more mentoring; a role we found very satisfactory and satisfying. Efi, Luis, Maria and Juvita, a student Dental Nurse, were very keen to learn from us and eager to help us with translating and support.

Our first day’s work was split between two teams, comprising local and volunteer clinicians. One team went to Tibar Upper School for dental screening, SDF treatments, oral hygiene instruction and distributing toothbrushes and toothpaste. The other team treated patients in the KD Clinic. We convened at the volunteer cottage for lunch and compared notes. We were reminded of the differences in dental practice in Timor-Leste and Australia and celebrated our new experiences. We were in for a steep learning curve, but were up for the challenge with a smile on our faces. We met with Joaquim after lunch, then we returned the Clinic and the Tibar Lower School. We also met Martin Moignard from Melbourne who worked with Joaquim on administration, budgets and business strategies for KD. Martin became an important part of our team.

The next day we did more dental screening at schools and treating patients in the Clinic. We found the clinical skills of the local Dental Nurses to be very good. They had a good knowledge of their dental stock and sterilising procedures and good hand skills in their operations. All very impressive.

On Wednesday we split up again and did screening and some extractions for staff at Tibar Upper School. In the afternoon we did specific mentoring including extractions, SDF use, and scaling. Lyn is a great tutor and the locals benefitted from her expertise with the ultrasonic and hand scalers. All this was very appreciated by Efi, Luis and Maria.

Jodie Billinger raised $650 through a crowd-funding exercise toward the cost of the new fridge to store dental perishables and 1000 doses of local anaesthetic. Well done Jodie! We also received a donation of $200 to print and bind some excellent oral health care education material, kindly made available to us by Kose Nehan, another Aussie volunteer dental program in Timor-Leste.

The team spent Thursday in the clinic treating patients. We had a lovely thankyou afternoon tea with Joaquim and the Staff at KD. We were each presented with colourful tais and a big bag of coffee! After dinner that night, our team worked in the dental clinic stocktaking equipment and supplies. Donated equipment and consumables needs to be well targeted and useful.

We held our final Dental Clinic on Friday morning. As is often the case, when trying to finish a dental clinic session at a specific time, the last extraction procedure is a difficult one. Today was no exception! I am pleased to report that the offending broken down upper wisdom tooth eventually came out! The patient was still smiling! We said our goodbyes after an important debriefing with Joaquim and another great lunch. All our meals at KD were fantastic. We said our goodbyes to KD.

We were fortunate to visit Dili University Dental School. We had a meeting with the staff and students and viewed facilities. We came away with the hope and ideas to be able to help them with ongoing issues of aged and non-working equipment. Only 1 of 10 dental chairs was working! It validated our decision to use simple equipment at KD, to minimise down time through break down.

We spent our last evening discussing dental volunteering and the challenges and joy it brings to all those who are willing to open themselves up to that wonderful experience. We will be back!

Dr John Denton