• Nikki Coltellaro

Dental volunteer work in Fiji

Some of you may wonder, why volunteer on holiday? Isn’t a holiday about relaxing and recharging? Fiji is definitely a place for both! And I managed to relax, recharge and add in a fantastic cultural experience while connecting with some amazing people on my recent visit. 

Children’s oral health is something that I hold close to my heart. Nothing warms my soul more than seeing a full mouth of healthy, happy teeth in a smiling child. 

Last month I was fortunate enough to spend a week at Lautoka Hospital with ‘Smiles For The Pacific’. My friend Emilee, a fellow Oral Health Therapist, organised the trip and together we had a challenging and rewarding experience. The staff that we worked with at the hospital were amazing and extremely resilient, considering their daily grind. 

I don’t think anything can prepare you for the unsightly teeth that have been destroyed due to lack of education and excess of oral health’s number one nemesis - sugar. 

I cannot express how much my heart strings were pulled when I was witness to a lovely little three year-old who had nothing but little stumps left for teeth. 

I had to remove a tooth for him that had abscessed and this resulted in excruciating pain. There aren't the resources to put him under a general anaesthetic to have a tooth removed or restored - and to make matters even more heart retching, this was not his first time in the hospital having a tooth pulled out. He had already been twice before and, rightfully so, he was terrified. 

Now I know what you’re thinking - people who work in dental like to inflict pain?! Err - wrong!

Trust me, that is completely the opposite of what I want. I’d like nothing more than to see all children with healthy pearly whites and to have a good experience at their dental practice.

This experience in Fiji reinforces how lucky we are in New Zealand that our government is working towards reducing sugary drinks and foods in schools. Moreover, it reminds me of how grateful I am that we have a free child dental service that provides oral health education, prevention and general anaesthetic for paediatric dentistry. 

It’s not lost on me that New Zealand could still make some improvements in the oral health sector. Especially in the low socioeconomic areas, but it’s positive to know we are on the right road. 

Now, on more of a conventional holiday note, we enjoyed a local surfing lesson and we climbed the tallest mountain in Fiji - Mt Tomanivi - with one of the local Chief’s sons. Phew, not all doom and gloom! 

I can’t wait to return to Fiji in the future as an oral health volunteer and a tourist. I truly believe this is the best way to holiday. 

Naturally, I’d like to sign off with a few little oral health tips to help your little ones keep their chompers ticking along nicely: 

- Brush your children’s teeth x2 daily with adult strength fluoride tooth paste until they are six years of age. Then your child can take over the brushing duty themselves.

- Take your child to see a dental professional. We start them young so that they get used to us and build positive experiences. 

- Water and milk only in their bottles. 

- High sugar foods are for treats on special occasions only. Surprisingly, this includes dried fruit and juice.

Issue 94 December 2018