An Australian dentist and a small group of volunteers have managed to check more than 1,200 mouths in just two weeks on Timor Leste.
That amounted to 527 extractions and 406 fillings for Charmaine White, from Narooma on the New South Wales south coast, and her volunteers.
Dr White was on her second trip to Timor Leste to provide dental services as part of the Timor Leste Dental Program — a joint initiative of Rotary, Lions, and the Carmelite Nuns who are based there.
Conditions in Timor Leste were challenging for the small team of volunteer dentists, nurses and translators, navigating difficult roads and dealing with power blackouts.
Dr White said many people in Timor Leste chewed betel nut to get relief from toothaches.
The chewing of betel nut has been linked to oral cancer, and a musician who recently came to Australia from Papua New Guinea for surgery to remove a cancer from his mouth says he’s now scared to chew it.
“It’s like their form of [paracetamol] but it’s addictive as well,” she said.
“So what would happen to the children is they would wake up in the middle of the night with a toothache and there’s no [paracetamol] so the grandmother, usually, would say ‘Have some of this, it will help the toothache go away’ and that’s what they do but then the kids get used to it.
“And then you get the oral cancers and there’s no treatment over there for oral cancer. If you want treatment you have to go to Australia.
“If we can stop the toothache or alleviate the toothache, the betel nut doesn’t get chewed, then the oral cancer comes down.”