By Dr Mengzhu Wang
When you ask most people what they want out of dentistry, many say “to provide direct patient care”, “to transform smiles and lives” or as a cynical but not inaccurate lecturer once said “to buy a bigger boat”! I found my dentistry calling at the end of my second year of university, when, to my surprise I discovered what I really wanted could be summed up in one word: travel.
I have always been a planner, but outdid myself when I completed my trip to Israel after it being five years in the making. After I returned from Nepal in 2012, I realised I had caught the overseas dental volunteering bug and so I googled “international dental volunteering”. Between the sponsored ads I spotted Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI), a project which seemed extremely well organised and provided an opportunity for me to travel to the other side of the planet. There was one catch: I would need at least two years’ experience post-graduation and one year’s notice in advance.
So the five-year countdown began, waiting for 2017 to arrive. While there are several common countries where dentists from Australia volunteer, Israel is not one of them. I decided to contact Dental Protection well in advance to request free extended indemnity cover to my work in Jerusalem and thankfully they were able to arrange this for me.
The DVI program provides volunteer dentists with an apartment in Jerusalem that sleeps up to four people. I was touched to discover that the DVI program was the brainchild of Trudi Birger, a Holocaust survivor who was saved at the eleventh hour in a death camp, and after her traumatic experience made a vow to never to leave a child in distress.
The five-chair clinic is one of the most efficient charity clinics I have ever worked at. Eligible children and youth from low socio-economic backgrounds are screened by a paedodontist first, with written treatment plans, and all of them must attend a hygiene visit prior to restorative treatment. Dentists only did operative dentistry on already clean mouths and the local children were some of the most resilient I have ever treated, with 4-year-olds routinely holding perfectly still for blocks. There is always a paedodontist on call if there are questions regarding the treatment plan, and our DAs took all of the radiographs. The clinic usually finished around 1pm, leaving me with the afternoon free to explore the fascinating and complex city that is Jerusalem.
I had prepared myself for clinical differences between Australia and Israel and I was certainly challenged, by amalgam camp! I am a public dentist and still use amalgam regularly, especially for subgingival restorations and broken-down teeth when crowns are not offered. However even I underwent a massive paradigm shift to adapt. In this clinic amalgams are the routine restorative material for almost every premolar and molar. Instead of the conservative interproximal composite preparations to which I was accustomed, I had to cut a full box form complete with dovetail and undercuts. A Canadian colleague volunteering at the same time also found this challenging – cutting into more sound enamel to get mechanical retention. The clinic routinely uses rubber dams for all restorative treatment and, for the first time, I used PDL injectors and Siqveland matrices and did not dislodge a single interproximal amalgam!
During my entire trip, I was always welcomed with generosity and hospitality by people from all walks of life. Particularly when they heard I was providing volunteer dentistry, be it the apartment neighbours, juice vendors in Old City, or the border guard who encouraged me to never stop travelling. It is my sincere hope that through the provision of essential health services, that people of different cultures are brought together to learn from each other. I especially look forward to the day when I return to the friendly and supportive DVI team to once again treat young patients who desperately need care.
To learn more about the DVI program visit: http://dental-dvi.org.il/