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Dental Volunteering in The Philippines

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Dental Volunteering in The Philippines

Veronica Pletiak completed her Bachelor of Oral Health at the University of Adelaide, Australia graduating in 2014. She has written this article to share her time volunteering overseas during her degree; she highlights the positive impact this opportunity can have on clinical skills.

As an undergraduate Bachelor of Oral Health student I had the opportunity to volunteer in the Philippines. I came across this opportunity through the organisation called Work the World which facilitates medical and dental elective placements across the globe for students and professionals. I saw this opportunity as a great way to extend my knowledge and skills and it definitely was that and much more. I spent three weeks in the town of Iloilo City in the Western Visayas of the Philippines. During my three weeks I was located in the City Health clinic, which mainly provided patients with relief of pain, usually extractions.

On my first day alone, I had already had so much hands on work that I had not anticipated, having been advised that it usually takes a few days before the supervisors allow you to treat the patients. I was initially shocked by this but took it as a nice surprise as it was the real reason for me coming on this placement. On my first day I had already performed three extractions. I felt a great sense of accomplishment having been able to do the treatment successfully.

There are numerous differences that I observed between the clinics in the Philippinvp_2.jpges and those in Australia. The city dental clinic in Iloilo is focused on curative dental treatment and performs solely extractions which I found hard to get my head around, especially when we were leaving asymptomatic caries untreated. But the main difference that is difficult to work through is the significantly lower standards of infection control. Throughout my placement I undertook the oral exam and the local anaesthetic administration for the majority, if not all of the patients.

Additionally I performed numerous extractions by myself and others where I was assisted. Whilst on my placement I was also uindertaking research for my third year oral health elective, a requirement for my final year studies at the University of Adelaide. For my research I was looking into the differences between the health care systems in Australia and the Philippines.

For the data collection I interviewed patients and staff about the health care system, access to care and patient views on the care. I had a great response for my research and found that the majority of patients were highly proficient in English. Only a handful of participants needed me to speak in Hiligaynon, that Rhea, the language teacher helped me learn and translate. I found that through doing this research I was able to fully grasp the health care system which aided in providing me with such a well-rounded placement.

During my placement I also had the chance to visit primary schools and day care centres where I performed oral health education. I taught the children the correct brushing technique as set in the Philippines, which rather than small circular strokes is encouraged to be vertical strokes. Furthermore, they don't follow the "spit, no rinse" technique which I found really hard to comprehend. Aside from brushing technique and general oral health education I also discussed diet with the children. I further performed dental examinations in the classrooms and applied fluoride varnish where indicated. It was really difficult to see the amounts of decay in these children's mouths, especially in the advanced stages which I hadn't experienced previously.


As well as spending time in the clinic, I was oriented around the city by the World the World staff enabling me to learn about the Filipino culture and explore the city as a local. Weekends were a time where I could explore the beauty of the Philippines travelling across the country to the breath-taking beaches, including the famous Boracay.

Overall I have gained an unforgettable and invaluable experience here in the Philippines. All the staff, students and locals were extremely friendly to me and went the extra mile to help me obtain the most out of my trip to the Philippines. I had such an incredible experience volunteering in the Philippines and made so many lifelong friends in my short three weeks, as well as drastically improving my confidence and clinical skills. I would definitely recommend students to undertake their placement in Iloilo, they will not regret it.

Looking back on this experience and having now graduated from the Bachelor of Oral Health, I think that this opportunity definitely aided me in the development of my clinical and patient management skills and assisted in moulding me into the clinician I am today.

For further information about volunteering with Work the World visit:

Veronica Pletiak


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