Joseph* walked into the clinic, trembling at the thought of his first-ever dental treatment. At only ten years old, Joseph had terrible tooth pain. When the YWAM Medical Ship arrived in his village, Joseph decided to make his way to ship to seek help. Without his parents holding his hand, Joseph hopped onto the zodiac and waited to see the dentist on board. Joseph saw dentist Elsie Gahanao, a Papua New Guinea (PNG) National, and found that he needed two extractions to resolve his pain. Dentist Elsie was touched by this little boy’s story, and was close to tears as she worked and experienced the small representation of the huge need in her own nation.
Some statistics estimatethat in PNG there are over 372,000 people to one dentist. It is a startling statistic, and one where the realities of this statistic are seen each outreach on board the Ship. Though Elsie, and another PNG dentist on board, Nerida Bun, both knew the facts, the two weeks they spent on the YWAM Medical Ship have been eye openers for them. Together they treated 364 patients who, like Joseph, were experiencing debilitating pain mostly due to a lack of knowledge of oral hygiene and no access to dental treatment.
As a result, they saw a large number of patients with dental caries and gum disease in those two short weeks. “It was mostly oral health instruction that they needed, which we gave them as we treated them in the clinic,” Elsie said. “There is a big difference between the oral health of the patients from the city, Port Moresby, and from the villages in the Gulf Province,” Elsie added, sadly.
Despite the sad realities they encountered in the Gulf Province, Elsie and Nerida came away from this experience with beaming smiles on their faces. They had been close to compassionate tears on occasions, yet they now realise just how special their skills are, and how much they can help the people of their nation. “When I think about it, I realise it was the Lord’s will for me to take dentistry, because there is a very real need out here,” Nerida told us contently.
This particular adventure for Elsie and Nerida has come to end, but for these two wonderful PNG dentists, their journey is just beginning.