Dr Marguerite Paterson is a dental surgeon at Waikato Hospital, but in late March next year she and six dental colleagues will be changing the modern facilities of a hospital in New Zealand for the challenges of a small village in rural Fiji.
It is the first mission for the Island Of Smiles Dental Charitable Trust, a voluntary group of dental health professionals who have worked in the Department of Oral Surgery, Maxillofacial, and Dental at Waikato Hospital. The team of past and present house surgeons, dentists and dental assistants have the common goal of improving oral health in deprived and remote regions of the Pacific.
The trust is currently fundraising to cover the expected cost of $15,000 for the voluntary expedition, which will take them to the village of Daku on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. A contact in Fiji alerted the team to the situation in the village and its surrounding areas – there is very poor oral hygiene in both adults and children, and as a result many are suffering from dental pain and infection, dental decay and gum disease. The remoteness of the village makes it very hard for local people to access emergency hospital dental treatment.
“For the majority of villagers this will be the only opportunity to receive dental care. For many it will be the first time they have ever seen a dentist,” Marguerite explains. “We will have four days based in a hall with running water and electricity, which the village has made available for our use. We plan to treat 60 patients per day. Villagers and local schools will be aware that we are coming and when, so we can maximise the number of patients we see.”
The team plan to adopt a “production line” delivery of treatment, with patients examined and then directed to the appropriate team member for treatment, including minor oral surgery (dental extractions). Elders of the community will act as interpreters and assist in reassuring nervous patients.
“Our primary objective is to treat adults at our clinic, but our dental assistant Andrea Champion (a former dental therapist) will accompany a local contact on visits to local schools to educate both teachers and students on basic oral hygiene,” says Marguerite.
That education will cover healthy diet as well as introducing a lunchtime tooth brushing programme to each school, and provide them with basic dental hygiene packs.
“Dental education is the key,” Marguerite says, “and hopefully we can get the support of head teachers and elders to carry on when we have left so the next generation enjoys better dental health.”
It will be a challenge and a fascinating experience for the team of seven volunteers – house surgeons Dr Ryan Smit, Dr Marguerite Paterson, Dr Sarah Twine, senior dentist Dr Graeme Jull, dental assistants Shonal Stevhen and Andrea Champion, and head dental assistant/ Island Of Smiles programme coordinator June Crawford.
The team will fly out of Auckland on 27 March 2015 and start the clinic in Daku on Sunday 29 March.
How can you help?
Island Of Smiles is a registered charitable trust. Donations for this project are most appreciated.
You can pay directly into the trust’s bank account:
Island Of Smiles Dental Charitable Trust
Or you can donate by credit card via their Givealittle web page here:
For messages of support, questions or other communication please email to