Waikato dentists back to Fiji to pull teeth

Neil Piccione and Marguerite Paterson treat a patient in their outdoor clinic in Lautoka, Fiji.
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Neil Piccione and Marguerite Paterson treat a patient in their outdoor clinic in Lautoka, Fiji.

Seven-hundred and ninety-eight infected teeth, pulled from 328 patients, over four days, in 95 per cent humidity.

The Island of Smiles Charitable Trust members have recently returned from their second trip to Fiji, where they spent four days offering free dental services. Mainly, they extracted infected teeth.

The team of eight from Waikato Hospital included dentists, surgeons and dental assistants. They travelled to just outside of Lautoka, a city in the west of Fiji, on January 30 and set up an outdoor clinic for patients. 

The trust was established in 2014 by previous and current DHB surgeons and staff. They wanted to do a charity specific to the Pacific Islands, because they felt that there was a dental need there. They formed their own charity and raised the funds themselves. And once sufficient funds and equipment were raised, they put a team together.

READ MORE: Waikato dentists deliver smiles to Fiji

Consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Waikato Hospital Simon Lou said Fiji was chosen because it is still a developing country with an enormous dental demand, and there were Fijian connections through staff that could help them get there. 

In June, 2015, the trust members travelled to Fiji for the first time and saw 250 patients, pulling out around 400 infected teeth over four days. This year, numbers were significantly higher. 

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Lou travelled to Fiji both times, overseeing the project and giving guidance when needed.

"This trip was an absolute resounding success and really built on the success of our first mission. And I think we surprised ourselves, even about the numbers of patients we were able to treat.

"Our first mission, we had no idea how many patients we could see, and we thought that was really quite an amazing achievement, given the conditions."

He said it was difficult to judge whether the dental state of Fiji was getting better or worse.

"I guess it shows there is a huge amount of dental need in Fiji. It's just how many patients we can treat as a team, and we just managed to get through more this year." 

On their final day, they treated 80 patients and had to turn away 100.

"It's almost like a never-ending demand," Lou said.

The last three people they treated travelled from the other side of Lotuka, and had arrived as the team were packing up on the final day.

Lou said where they came from was around a 20-minute drive. The patients had taken a bus as far as it would go and walked the rest of the way. 

"We had started to dismantle the clinic, and had taken down a lot of the stuff because we had finished. But when we found out they had come from the other side, we agreed to treat them."

He said the dental health of the patients they treated were at a point where conservative dentistry, such as fillings, was impossible.

"You have to be realistic about what you can do. We were not fully equipped to do those procedures [fillings]. To get through that number of patients, to give patients real relief, we take out the teeth."

Lou said they had to bring all their own gear with them, including tools, medication, needles and gloves. On top of that, he said conditions were extremely hot.

"Most days were 34 degrees, but 99 per cent humidity. No air conditioning, but we luckily did have fans."

This year was maxillofacial senior house surgeon Neil Piccione's first trip to Fiji with the trust.

The 26 year old said being able to provide the treatment for free was incredibly rewarding.

 "A fair few of my patients broke down in tears of gratitude once I had finished treatment, which really left me with a great sense of fufilment and purpose."

The trust is already planning a third mission. 

"We've exhausted most of our supplies we had, and the funds, so the next mission all depends on how we go fundraising," Lou said.
 

 - Stuff

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