We held our first dental mission last year—a project that was conceived after I attended a series of operations on children with harelip or cleft palate. The condition of the children's teeth was shocking. Clearly something needed to be done.
My husband Flemming was in Denmark at the time, so I wrote him about the situation and asked if he might be able to find some Danish dentists who would be willing to come to Cebu and provide free dental work for these children and others who were so poor they could never afford to pay to have their teeth fixed.
Flemming contacted the Danish Dental Society and arranged to meet with a group of dentists. They were all very positive. It wasn't a question of if but when, they said. As a follow-up to that meeting, we wrote an article for the Danish Dental Journal, and other dentists started inquiring about our project and how they could help.
Next, we contacted a local dental society here in Cebu, the Philippines second largest city, and were told what we already suspected: The local dentists recognized the problem and wanted to help, but the need was far too big for them to handle alone. They welcomed our participation.
The result: Last year three dentists came from Denmark and we arranged a week-long dental mission, during which a few hundred people were treated for free. That was a relatively small thing compared to the need, but it promised to be the beginning of bigger things.
The Danish dentists went home and, having seen the need firsthand, immediately began lobbying for our dental mission project. As a result, two teams—seven dentists in all—came and worked for three weeks each during July 2003.
Every day, local dentists teamed up with the Danish dentists. Local businessmen who had sponsored last year's project also helped again this year. Hardly any of the children had ever gone to the dentist before, so we arranged puppet and clown shows to entertain them, teach dental hygiene, and help alleviate their fears.
The teams worked at a hospital, a fishing village, several basketball courts, barangay (community) halls, mountain areas, orphanages, a harbor slum, and squatter settlements built on garbage dumps. This year they also took the dental mission to two other islands in the Visayas region of the Philippines. In all, over 1,800 people received free dental work.
Organizing the mission was a lot of work, but also very rewarding. Mayors and barangay captains were very thankful for our effort, and we were asked repeatedly to make our dental mission an annual event.
2006 Update from Joan
The Cebu Dental Society, which we have worked with in the past, asked that we do a puppet show at their special activity during Dental Month. We put together a new 40-minute show focusing on health, hygiene, and the care of our teeth, which our teen and preteen puppeteers presented beautifully. As a finale, Esther (15), Suzy (15), Larissa (11), and the puppets performed a dance routine to the song “Happy Smile.”
As a result of that show, we were invited to the 1st National Dental Festival, which was held at the biggest mall in Cebu. Songs like “Brushy, Brushy,” “White Sugar,” “Happy and Healthy,” and “Happy Smile” were big hits. Afterwards the president of the dental society sent us a message of appreciation.
Originally Published in 2003 and 2006.