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Taking our dental caring culture to Samoa

The Fono dental team of Dr Peter Kim and Dental Assistant Patrick Soon took our caring culture to Samoa to provide dental relief work and training for staff and dentists at Moto’otua Hospital in late 2016. 

It was five days they will never forget, says Peter, who led the experienced team as a part of the Samoa Outreach project scheme.  

The idea was suggested by The Fono’s clinical director of Dental, Dr Mowafaq Amso, to apply for an annual Pacific Region Dental Aid Grant from the Wrigley Company Foundation and the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) to provide relief for the Pacific Islands. 

“Given that we cater for Pacific island communities, we thought it might be a worthwhile project to look into,” says Peter. 

“The whole idea was to go and provide our services, however necessary, and hopefully to provide some education for staff and dentists there as well.”  

The Fono team included Senior Dental Assistant Patrick Soon, who was born and raised in Samoa (his mother is Samoan and father Chinese).

Patrick graduated from the Fijian School of Medicine and was a practicing dentist in Samoa before moving to New Zealand. 

“We helped out in whatever way we could, and it mostly turned out to be getting people out of pain,” says Peter, who said the team soon discovered their biggest issue was a lack of good oral hygiene behaviours. 

“We tried to implement some good habits … it’s a different culture with different beliefs about oral health.  

“So it was a matter of bringing in a new perspective for patients and staff and to focus on preventative methods as opposed to just seeking treatment when it’s necessary. 

Patrick, who worked as a Dentist at Moto’otua Hospital for five years, agreed that people were coming to the dentist far too late, “when they’re in serious pain and can’t wait anymore”.  

He added the pain could have been avoided by going to the dentist for basic things such as fillings.  

They worked as best as they could, providing basic oral healthcare treatment, including relief of pain and surgical extractions, while at the same time providing educational resources and oral hygiene instruction to reduce the likelihood of requiring emergency dental treatment going forward.  

Apart from the most basic equipment and limited resources in Samoa, there’s also a shortage of dentists.  

Peter says that while more advanced equipment would make dentists’ jobs in Samoa much easier, staff in Moto’otua are “pretty good at improvising and using what they have”. 

Peter hopes that they can visit again later this year, knowing that with more education provided for communities and upskilling local dentists, better oral health behaviours will develop naturally. 

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Dr Peter Kim

The Fono Dental

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