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IN a remote dental clinic in the Indian Himalayas, dentist Tara McAndrew and husband Brian helped to improve the smiles of hundreds of children.
The couple spent two weeks working in one of the many clinics run by Global Dental Relief – a US-based charity whose mission is to bring free dental care to children throughout the world.
Brian, who works in the IT field, and had never done dental work before, became Tara’s dental assistant on the trip. She says that as a non-dental volunteer, they didn’t know what work Brian was expected to do.
“My husband learnt a lot and a lot more about dentistry,” she says.
“He now appreciates how stressful my job can get because it is very time specific.
“Although he says he not going to quit his job any time soon, he felt it was very rewarding. He saw that it can make such an impact on people – even a treatment that can simply make a smile nicer.”
Using volunteer dentists, hygienists, assistants and non-dental volunteers, the charity delivers treatment and preventative care for children in schools, orphanages and remote villages in Nepal, India, Guatemala, Kenya and Cambodia.
For the McAndrews, they headed to Ladakh, located on the Tibetan Plateau, surrounded by the Himalayan, Karakoram and Zanskar mountains. In Ladakh they were based in the small town of Leh – which sits at an altitude of 12,000ft.
The couple ended up treating hundreds of children, aged from six to 18-years-old, working six days straight, where Tara used a headlamp as a light.
In total, 558 patients were treated by six dentists, one hygienist, eight non-dental volunteers and two team leaders – adding up to about $215,000 worth of treatment for the community.
“We worked really hard to see as many people as we could, but still ensured we did good, quality work,” Tara says.
“What I heard from local people is that Leh is becoming increasingly popular with tourists.
“There’s been rapid change and it’s gone from being an isolated region to a lot of guest houses.
“The kids in that region are being exposed to a more Western diet.
“Going overseas and doing any charity work really helps you to immerse yourself in the culture, eat the local food and feel like you’re helping that community.”
Tara has previously done charity dental work in Vietnam with another charity.
She wanted to stress to the children she was treating the importance of prevention.
“Most kids are taught about preventing tooth decay and fillings and we address diet,” she says.
“The educational element is important.
“Over there they use a spray bottle that they call an energiser – which is sugared water.
“Essentially they spray sugar inside their mouths.”