Community | 08 September, 2019

Changing lives as a volunteer dentist – “the long hours and hard work all worth it”

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • Community
  • /
  • Changing lives as a volunteer dentist – “the long hours and hard work all worth it”

Dentist Dr Sanjay Madhav counts himself ‘lucky’ to have a skill which enables him to help others, not just in New Zealand, but around the word.

Practicing general dentistry in Auckland for over 30 years, the last 10 years have also seen the Pukekohe dentist volunteer his time to dental clinics in developing countries such as Kenya, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Guatemala.

His most recent trip in June, saw him and a team of other volunteers from around the globe treat over 800 children in Antigua, Guatemala.

Dr Sanjay Madhav and team members with a patient in Antigua, Guatemala.

“Being in a health profession, we are very lucky as we can use our skills anywhere in the world,” he says.

Sanjay says it’s these skills he has, and knowing that there are a lot of disadvantaged children who do not have access to basic dental care, which motivates him to do these volunteer trips.

He says seeing the children smile after they have been treated, makes all the long hours and hard work worth it.

“I just love going to these undeveloped countries, mixing in with the locals, seeing their country from their eyes, and giving the kids a service that most people in New Zealand take for granted,” he says.

“Seeing these kids smile after you have treated them, always makes you feel good.”

Sanjay says after his first volunteer trip to Nepal over 10 years ago, he knew it was something he wanted to continue participating in.

“I came away from my first clinic in Nepal thinking it was awesome,” he says.

“The friendships you build with the other volunteers are priceless. My wife and I have made some awesome friends on these clinics, which we always keep in touch with.”

The team of 18 volunteers, which included clinical and non-clinical staff, treated 837 children in five days, a bigger number than usual, Sanjay says. The team spent their time treating children who otherwise lack access or resources to receive dental care.

During this most recent mission, Sanjay took on the role of ‘intake dentist’.

“I would see all the children as they came, examine them and plan their treatment. They would then be seen by the clinicians would do the actual treatment,” he says.

The non clinical volunteers have duties allocated to them such as dental assisting, fluoride application, sterilisation, admin duties etc.

“It is some-what of a production line,” says Sanjay. “With this number of patients, this is the most effective way to see and treat everyone.”

Like in most developing countries, dental care is not easily accessed in Guatemala.

“Dentistry is un-reachable for most children,” says Sanjay. “If you are wealthy you can go to a private clinic, but there is no funding like we have in New Zealand, most children’s oral health is neglected.”

The care the team provide will treat the basic oral care needs of the children, teach them valuable oral health education and relieve them from pain if they have any.

“As these clinics are usually in a hall, with portable equipment, and you’re working without your go-to instruments, you end each day mentally and physically exhausted,” says Sanjay.

“By the end of the week you are drained, but you think to yourself, this was fantastic,” he adds.

“I love Antigua as a town, the people were friendly, the food was great, you always felt safe walking around. The kids we were treating were happy and always smiling. The all-round atmosphere was great,” he says.

Sanjay and the team were working just 22km away from Volcan de Fuego, the active volcano in which the communities of Antigua reside.

“We flew out just as Fuego blew its top, we were one of the very last flights out,” says Sanjay.

Many of the communities Sanjay and the team were treating would have been affected.

“They live under an active volcano however, they don’t have warning systems like we would have here in New Zealand,” he adds.

Global Dental Relief – treating children around the world

Sanjay has been involved with Global Dental Relief (GDR), a non-profit organisation founded in 2001, providing dental care to children around the world, for over 10 years.

The organisation bases its work on knowing that if children received early dental care and oral health education, it would change their lives.

Teams of volunteer dentists, hygienists, assistants, and general volunteers deliver treatment and preventive care in dental clinics that serve children in schools, orphanages, and remote villages.

To date, through their combined efforts, more than 2,300 volunteers have provided over $US30 million in donated care to more than 145,000 children.

Clinics are set up in in Kenya, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Guatemala.

Sanjay is planning on another volunteer mission with GDR in June 2019. This time he hopes to bring a team of Lumino clinicians with him.