|Kelowna dentist Jonathan Visscher works on a patient during a trip to Myanmar with the charity New Realities International.|
"Most of these people have never brushed their teeth, let alone ever seen a dentist," said Kelowna dentist Jonahan Visscher after a recent trip to the Asian country, formerly known as Burma.
"Every patient we saw there was in pain and had rotten teeth."
The problems in Myanmar are myriad, but lack of education and poverty top the list when it comes to diabolical dental hygiene.
"They are so poor that any money they have they spend on food, not buying a toothbrush," said Visscher, who along with his wife, fellow dentist Debra Matson, owns and operates Okanagan Smiles at 2149 Springfield Rd.
"Plus, they are just so poorly
educated. They really don't understand their bodies and don't make the connection that if you don't look after your teeth, they rot and cause you pain."
Such a situation calls for a two-pronged approach.
When Visscher and Matson were in Myanmar recently with a medical doctor from southern California, they jointly saw 100 patients daily.
"We tried to see those in the most need, which meant people in pain with severe tooth decay," said Visscher.
"That meant a lot of tooth pulling just to get rid of the pain and rotten teeth, and then a toothbrush so they can start keeping the teeth they have left clean. Most of these people also had infections and scabies (a skin disease caused by mites), so the doctor gave them drugs for that."
The worst case Visscher and Matson saw in Myanmar was a woman with a paralyzed face from all her teeth rotting out and only the decayed roots left to cause pain and nerve damage.
"All we could do is take out the rotten roots and sew her up," Visscher said.
Many of the patients seen were orphans housed at Buddhist temples or monasteries.
Because the Buddhist monks at these places believe they (and the children) shouldn't be materialistic, they don't own anything - even a toothbrush.
The clothes and bedding the children wear and use is considered shared, so that is all right.
"So what we did was 'lend' everyone a toothbrush and told them we'd collect it when we returned," said Visscher.
That return trip may be in a year or two, and Visscher hopes to see a noticeable improvement in the dental health of the people loaned a toothbrush.
"At that point, you can maybe do some fillings rather than have to concentrate on extractions just to get rid of the most serious problems," he said.
Visscher and Matson's one-week trip to Myanmar was with New Reality International, a Kansas City-based non-profit group that sends dentists and doctors around the world to do good in impoverished nations.
Visscher has been to the South American country of Guyana three times in three years and has seen improvements.
"The first year was pulling rotten teeth just to get people out of pain and distribute tootbrushes," he explained.
"The second and third years, we we able to do fillings because people's teeth were in better shape from the brushing."
Visscher has also done repeat trips to Mexico
and Haiti, which is considered to have the most non-existent health care in the world due the earthquake a couple of years ago on top of devastating poverty.
In fact, the situation is so bad there that New Reality International co-founder dentist Joel Mickelwait is moving to Haiti full time for dentistry and charity work.
Visscher first met Mickelwait 18 years ago on a mission trip to Central America when the two were high school students.
Both became dentists, and they reconnected with New Reality International.
Visscher and Mickelwait will meet up again in Haiti later this month when the Kelowna dentist heads there to help build an orphanage and school.
Visscher is also currently the president of New Reality International, which sends about 100 dentists a year to places where people are in desperate need of dental care.