March 9th, 2015
When my college roommate, now a pharmacist, invited me on a medical missions trip to northern Thailand, I had some initial reservations. I knew the medical and dental needs were great and access to care was difficult and sometimes non-existent for the people we would be treating, but I was fearful of "jungle dentistry" as some of the more seasoned missionaries on my team jokingly called it. And jungle dentistry it was! No x-rays, no suction, no adjustable, cushioned dental chair. After much consideration and prayer, I decided to go for it.
Fortunately there was another dentist joining our team, Dr. Philip, so I wasn't completely on my own, but unfortunately, all the supplies Dr. Philip brought were confiscated by customs when the rest of the team arrived in Chiang Mai. By the grace of God, me and my friend had done some traveling before the missions trip and came through a different airport so all the supplies I brought were allowed through. This presented a bit of a challenge nonetheless as Dr. Philip and I had coordinated what we were bringing to minimize redundancy in our instruments. Thankfully, Dr. Sun and Isabel had helped me gather my supplies and encouraged me to bring a few extra things so we had enough tools to get the job done and plenty of the important stuff - local anesthetics! Dr. Choi also generously donated all the supplies I was able to bring for future use in light of the difficulties we faced at customs this year.
We set up our primitive clinic - a single table for all our instruments and cold sterile area and a raised table for the patients to lay on - in two locations. One was at an orphanage in Chiang Saen (about 5 hours from Chiang Mai) and the other at a local church in Huay Jor. Over the course of our time there we were able to see 97 patients ranging in age from 4 to 71 and extracted 116 root tips, broken teeth, and wisdom teeth. Most of our patients were from the most impoverished people groups of Laos, the Khmu, where there is minimal access to dental care due to geographical and financial hardships. For most, this annual mission trip is the only dental care they will receive. One patient broke my heart - a nine year old girl, the youngest of 12 children, came to have her two permanent front teeth extracted because they were broken and infected. We were able to remove the infected teeth but without access to further dental care, she will likely go around without two front teeth for the rest of her life.
Sincere thank you to Dr. Choi, our associates and our office staff for covering for me while I was gone and enabling me to take the opportunity to go on this trip!