Griffith students provide frontier dentistry in PNG

Kiunga, in Western Province, Papua New Guinea is the destination this week for four trainee dentists from Griffith University looking to bring their skills to disadvantaged communities.


Now in their fifth and final year of the Bachelor of Oral Health (Dental Science) and Graduate Diploma in Dentistry, Emad Ahangari, Benjamin Greenlees, Philip Ho and Mengzhu Wang have organised a two week program which will see them providing dental care to a very low resourced community.

"It's all very exciting as we have been planning this trip for a year and we have really gone through some hoops to get there," says Mengzhu. "There has been a lot of administrative detail to get through such as clearance to export medications through the Therapeutic Goods Administration and working with the local hospital we are going to, to get student registration with the PNG Medical Board."

The intrepid group will be quickly put to work providing a range of dental care to the local people at the Kiunga Hospital, many of whom have received little or no dental treatment.

"Up until a month ago, the community had no dentists available to provide any form of treatment," said Mengzhu. "However now there is one who is also going to double up as our supervisor while we are there. There are only two dental chairs available, however I believe our visit has been announced on local radio so we are expecting to get quite busy!"

In addition to providing oral health education at the local schools, the group are also planning to go on several 'village patrols' where they will hike with backpacks to provide makeshift dental clinics in remote areas.

Aided by many donations of dental products and equipment from local dentists and manufacturers including SDI and Kerr, Mengzhu says the group has been told to expect a high rate of cancerous lesions.

"People from PNG have traditionally been very keen on chewing betel nut leaf which unfortunately can cause various forms of mouth cancer. Although we cannot do anything to treat this, we are hoping to instil some messages around prevention as part of our oral health promotions.

"We have a fantastic opportunity ahead of us. It will be tough setting up makeshift clinics but I am looking forward to making a difference, particularly with the children," says Mengzhu. "I am sure it will be both a rewarding and humbling experience."