Each year, including this last year, Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine Arizona visits the Island Kingdom of Tonga. We take three different trips, the first in May for 8 days, and the second and third in November for 8 days a piece. Each trip we have 4 or 5 faculty and 16 students. All of the faculty and students pay their own way to go on this humanitarian trip. Over the years, we have been able to modernize an old free standing medical dental clinic on the Liahona high school campus. We now have seven operatories. We send supplies over via a very slow boat and we also pack our suitcases with supplies. The students arrive on a Saturday and prepare for the coming week. They have to gather food supplies for breakfast, and the faculty and their guests will prepare lunch and dinner when the locals are not providing specialty cuisines, the pineapple and coconuts are the best. On Monday morning, we begin seeing patients at 7:30 am. Like most international trips, the demand is very high and lines can be very long. We see patients throughout the day until 4:30 pm. We do this every day through Friday.
The students are paired and change from assistant to provider with every patient the team treats. We do as much comprehensive dentistry as possible. We have equipped the clinic with two digital sensors and laptops, so that really helps in the diagnosis. Students see around 400 patients over each week. Some of those patients are treated at the dental clinic at the main hospital. The students perform extractions, fillings, root canals, post and cores when needed, crowns (we shipped a Cerec to the clinic), dentures, and large interim partial dentures. We teach the students how to set teeth and bend wire for clasps and flask and process these as well. When we first started our method of sterilization was a rice cooker, since then we have shipped over a Statim and a Midmark autoclave. After we treat patients, we will spend two evenings teaching current techniques and trends to the hospital dentists. We have helped them learn many of our modern techniques. When we are not doing all of those things, the evenings are free for visiting local beaches and other attractions including two luau’s, one of which has a great fire dancer show. By the end of the week, all are tired, but lives have been changed. Students are so appreciative of the new culture and people they have grown to love and appreciate and for the many blessings they have here at home (no big bugs).
P. Bradford Smith, D.D.S., FACD, FICD
College of Dental Medicine-Arizona