Adventures in dental hygiene: Alliance for Smiles trip to BoZhou, China

Mary Jensen, RDH, chronicles her most recent trip to China for Alliance for Smiles, a non-profit organization that provides reconstructive surgery to children born with cleft lips and cleft palates.

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In November 2015, I completed my tenth medical trip with Alliance for Smiles (AFS), a nonprofit organization that provides free reconstructive cleft lip and cleft palate surgery to children in Africa, Bangladesh, and China. This trip took me BoZhou, a city of approximately five million people in east-central China. This was my seventh trip to China, and it was another great adventure in dental hygiene!

Patient Before Surgery For Web

Above: Jensen and a patient pre-surgery

After a few flights and a five-hour bus ride, our team arrived in BoZhou. We were warmly welcomed by our local hosts. The team was in great spirits and ready to get to work.

The medical team consisted of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, operating room (OR) nurses, post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurses, a pediatrician, a dentist, a dental hygienist (myself!), and a dental assistant. There were also nonmedical support staff, including a supply coordinator, a photographer, and the mission director. Our team members came from around the world and we instantly came together. We shared knowledge and experiences. We worked to build bridges of international goodwill.

In the opening day of clinic, we screened 77 patients. On our first day of surgery, six children had their cleft lips repaired. Our dental clinic was able to provide the necessary dental treatment to these children prior to their surgeries.

Patient After Surgery For Web

Above: Patient pre-surgery

Our dental patients came to the clinic tired, hungry, and scared. They usually arrived on the days of their surgeries.

We were helped along the way by a local team of dedicated, energetic, and skilled translators. Not only were they proficient in English, they were incredibly helpful and kind. In the dental clinic, I was lucky enough to work with a translator from the BoZhou Teacher's College. "Joy" was her English name, and it fit her perfectly.

Jensen Translators For Web

Above: Local translators who assisted on the trip. Joy is pictured on the right.

There are many stories of the hardships that families of a children with a cleft lips and cleft palates have to face. It is simply amazing to see the tears of happiness that are shed by parents when a child has surgical repairs with a beautiful outcome!

My most memorable dental patients were eight-year-old twin boys. Qiang and Li were both born with cleft lips and cleft palates. At six months of age, their cleft lips were repaired, but not very well. Five years ago, an international surgical team was in a nearby town, but unfortunately circumstances prevented the boys from having their repairs redone.

During the first week we were in China, the father of the twin boys happened to meet someone on the street whose child had his cleft lip repaired by our team. The whole family dropped everything and came to BoZhou.

We screened Qiang and Li on Monday. I saw both boys for dental cleanings, fluoride treatment, sealants, and oral hygiene instruction. Extractions were needed and performed in the OR prior to surgery by our team dentist, Patrick O’Flaherty, DDS.

The best part of this story was the boys' mother. She herself had a poorly repaired cleft lip, as well as a non-repaired cleft palate. Can you imagine living 33 years with a large opening in the roof of your mouth? But that all changed in one day! This mom had surgery performed by our team and was fully repaired. They left one very happy family!

Family With Twin Boys For Web

Above: Jensen with the Meng family, including twin brothers Qiang and Li

The two-week trip came to an end all too soon. In the end, we had helped not only the children, but their families as well. We even managed to make the local paper!

Jensen Chinese Newspaper For Web

I look forward to another Alliance for Smiles mission trip to China in April 2016. Are you curious to learn more? Thinking of volunteering? Check out Your adventure awaits!

Below: Before and after photos from the BoZhou trip

Jensen Bozhou Daily Briefing For Web

Mary Jensen, RDH, MS, is a dental hygienist in Chicago, Illinois. After working exclusively in a dental practice for many years, she is now an independent oral care specialist with HyLife, LLC, a network of hygienists who provide weekly oral hygiene care to dependent individuals, either in their homes or assisted living communities.

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