Brighter Deck chair dentistry in Cambodia

Deck chair dentistry in Cambodia

Deck chair dentistry in Cambodia

From pulling teeth out to treating more children in a day than he’d seen in five years, JCU fifth year dentistry student Connor Smith got more than he bargained for when he completed an overseas placement to Cambodia.

Oral health issues in children is not as big a problem for most Australians when compared to circumstances in underserved communities. This makes it difficult to train aspiring dentists in how to treat patients who are also children.

Connor is no stranger to the challenges of working with children. A placement in Cambodia gave him a first-hand experience of the issues in paediatric oral health, as well as the difficulties of practising dentistry in underserved communities.

“I think you can learn a lot through the unexpected,” Connor said.

This experience afforded Connor and his peers an opportunity to gain experience that cannot be taught in any lecture theatre.

The experience he gained in paediatric dentistry is difficult to replicate in Australia. JCU’s location in North Queensland and its partnerships with universities like the University of Puthisatra offered unique opportunities.

“I didn’t anticipate when I started at JCU that I’d have an opportunity to have an overseas placement,” he said. “I certainly didn’t expect to end up practicing in a prison in Cambodia. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I’d encourage anyone who is doing dentistry or considering doing dentistry to take up whatever option JCU has to offer in regards to international placement.”

Going to underserved communities in Cambodia put Connor and his peers in the literal hot-seat, away from beaches and palm trees and into deck chairs.

“We were with a mobile dental unit and we had basically deck chairs rather than dental chairs and folding plastic chairs for ourselves to sit on," he said.  “I think you learn a lot when you’re thrown in the deep end. To be working without the creature comforts we have here, working in 33-degree heat will test your resolve a bit, working with sub-adequate lighting and working without a full dental chair and a dental assistant and things.”

Connor Smith and his peers on placement in Cambodia.

Connor said his experience with young children in the Tekeo Province was particularly eye-opening.

“We don’t treat as many children in Australia because, fortunately, Australian children don’t have as many dental problems,” he said. “Paediatric dentistry is fundamentally different. Working on baby teeth and working with a child is very different to working on an adult. We definitely got a lot of experience in that area that we wouldn’t have back home.”

JCU’s partnerships with overseas universities was the driving force that allowed Connor, a student dentist, and his peers to practice in foreign countries and gain unique and valuable experience unavailable to most.

“When I actually applied for dentistry I didn’t know that overseas posts were a thing for dentistry,” he said. “I didn’t realise that the partnerships existed to allow students to practice overseas similar to how we practice here in Australia,” Connor said.

“I think it was a fantastic opportunity.”

The compassion Connor experienced extended into the people of Cambodia as well, who welcomed JCU students.

“The people of Cambodia, their attitude towards us was fantastic, they’re such a friendly people in general and we felt very welcomed by the citizenry,” he said.

Discover how to make a difference with JCU Dentistry. Experience working in a range of settings, including overseas placements.

Published 10 May 2019