Bringing smiles to Cambodia

(Edmonton) An instructor with the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry recently returned from a goodwill trip to Cambodia where he was part of a team offering free dental and medical assistance.

Kevin Lobay, a clinical lecturer in both Dentistry and the Department of Emergency Medicine, made the two-week, overseas trek in mid-February with 15 other Canadians through Kindness in Action. Once in Cambodia, the team grew to more than 25 members when local volunteers joined in the efforts. During the goodwill trip, the team saw 1,000 patients in five communities. The team included dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, physicians and pharmacists.

Lobay, who is trained as a dentist and emergency medicine physician, worked with many children who had major tooth decay. Some children simply needed numerous fillings, but others had to have all of their teeth removed because of severe tooth decay.

“The big problem is the addition of refined sugar to their diet,” said Lobay. “Culturally, they are not used to having this, so they don’t realize how bad it can be for your teeth to drink lots of pop and eat candies.

“I remember driving away and one little girl waving at us, smiling, with gauze still in her mouth. They were very thankful for the help we provided.”

He said some adults were very reluctant to have their upper wisdom teeth removed because of a rural myth that it causes blindness.

“Some believed us and others wouldn’t allow us to remove their painful wisdom teeth,” said Lobay. “I finally convinced [one of the ladies], so we extracted the tooth and talked about it afterwards. I asked the translator to ask her if she could still see and she just started laughing.”

This is the fifth international trip Lobay has made through Kindness in Action over the last seven years. He has also travelled to the Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru.

“There is no better way to travel and interact with cultures than doing something like this. And it is very rewarding to be able to help others,” said Lobay, who is a physician at both the University of Alberta Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

In late February, a number of dental and dental-hygiene students from the U of A went on other goodwill trips through Kindness in Action.

Kindness in Action was brought to fruition in 1993 by Amil Shapka, a 1990 Dentistry alumnus. Shapka says that half of his 1990 DDS class is regularly involved with Kindness in Action, and that up to one-third of the class has been involved at the same time.

“It was a good class,” said Shapka. “We were all pretty close when taking our studies and remain close to this day.”

The dental charity provides free dental care in areas around the world for those who have limited or no access to dental care. In the last decade, Kindness in Action has made 15 missions per year to Central and South America to help fill needs beyond dentistry. Those involved have helped to build schools, set up clinics, and develop and nurture programs.