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Using “lawn-chair units,” dental mission trip assists more than 1,000 people

Feb. 3, 2016
Dental hygiene students share their skills with Vietnamese orphans and their caretakers in a recent dental mission trip.

Dental hygiene students share their skills with Vietnamese orphans and their caretakers in a recent dental mission trip

In December 2015, the Foothill College Dental Hygiene Program’s Class of 2016 embarked on a journey to share their passion and services of oral health care to over 1,000 orphans in Vietnam. Foothill College is located in Los Altos Hills, California, just south of San Francisco. Phyllis Spragge, RDH, MA, is the director of the program. This article will share the highlights of the trip.

It was a hot and humid day in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. About 100 orphaned children were dispersed throughout the classroom that was repurposed into a makeshift dental clinic. The spacious brick room was organized into four main areas: registration, oral hygiene instructions, dental hygiene services, and emergency dental care services. This “clinic” of lawn chairs, wooden benches, and plastic stools was bustling with excitement from the children, caretakers, and dental caregivers alike. With large grins from ear to ear, the children lined up along the wall adjacent to the main entrance of the classroom to greet all the unfamiliar faces of their dental care team. Filled with curiosity, all the children fidgeted in line as they awaited their turn to receive dental care, education, gifts, and a sense of friendship.

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Sixteen students, Phyllis Spragge, dental hygiene program director, Dr. Ken Horowitz, a dedicated faculty member, and Cindy Ngo, a student’s mother eager to give back to her home country, made dental care a reality for children and caretakers who were otherwise generally denied access to even the most basic levels of care, like teeth cleaning. Mrs. Ngo was instrumental in setting up the travel logistics and getting permissions from Vietnamese officials. The Foothill College Dental Hygiene Class of 2016 extended their services from their humble community clinic in Los Altos Hills to four different orphanages and villages throughout Southern Vietnam: Mai Tam and Chua Ky Quang 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, the village of Binh Phuoc, and Chua Ky Quang 2 in Long An. The class and local dentists were able to provide dental hygiene services such as teeth cleaning, fluoride treatment, and basic self-care education like proper tooth brushing; emergency dental care like simple fillings and extractions was also provided.

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As the dental team disassembled lawn-chair “units” and packed away all equipment for the final time, the last group of children serviced at a temple in Long An thanked all the dental caregivers with big smiles covered in fluoride varnish. The 1,000+ children and caretakers left our clinics with newfound knowledge for oral health care and dental hygiene/emergency services rendered, but we, the dental caregivers, left with a greater fervor for our duties as responsible citizens of the world and for dental health care and its proliferation among all peoples.

Diana Ngo (left), is a second-year dental hygiene student at Foothill College and the student trip coordinator; she and will graduate in June 2016. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in Asian American Studies.