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The Compact Dental Unit : Mobile Miracle in Dentistry

Community service is the hallmark of any professional institution and The Faculty is proud of the many appropriate solutions it has developed to alleviate the real dental health challenges facing rural villagers. “The Thai people deserve quality dental treatment, but not enough dentists or facilities are available,” opined Associate Professor Reda Kasetsuwan, Department of Community Dentistry. “Thirty years ago no comprehensive dental services existed outside of Bangkok. Later,” explained Ajarn Reda, “the Ministry of Public Health set up one major hospital in every province, but it took time until they all had full-time dental health practitioners.”

To offset this health deficiency, several times a month, for the last 9 years, The HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Mobile Dental Service has traveled the length of Thailand delivering emergency and routine dental care to villagers who would otherwise go without. Over 200,000 needy students and their parents have received quality dental care through this ongoing program.

The achievements of this outreach activity stem from a number of factors including the willing hearts of volunteer students, staff and instructors and the generous support of companies and individual supporters. The Faculty adds a generous contribution through the Mahidol University Dental Foundation by covering the accommodation, transportation and other local expenses

Another key component contributing to the program’s success is the technical expertise developed by The Faculty. Without adequate or properly functioning equipment, even the most determined spirit with complete financial support would find it difficult to raise the level of dental care in rural areas. To overcome the low tech challenges presented by the remote countryside, The Faculty has developed the mobile dental unit.

“When I finished my DDS Degree, my friend’s father, a village doctor in Baan Pahan, Ayutthya Province, invited me to visit,” narrated Ajarn Reda. “The conditions were rather primitive – the patients all assembled on the floor and I performed extractions – the only service I could – from a small step platform.”

That overwhelming experience prompted Ajarn Reda to search for the means to bring Thai villagers better access to and more equity with dental services. At the same time, The Royal Thai Government was exploring strategies to increase health and social welfare services to battle the then growing communist influence. With a government grant of 500,000 baht, approximately US $20,000 at that time, Ajarn Reda contracted with the Japanese Medical Company, J. Morita, to create a mobile dental unit allowing dentists to provide a greater variety of services, including drilling and polishing, to remote areas.

“The Thai military had a mobile medical unit, so we joined with them piloting our invention for one and a half months in Chiang Rai Province,” recalled Ajarn Reda. “Next, The Faculty of Dentistry joined with the Faculty of Public Health in creating a special field training in Nakorn Ratchasima Province incorporating volunteer student services. The following year we created a second mobile dental unit so our sixth year students could experience working upcountry before they graduated.”

The second unit with a compressor from Germany was an improvement on the Japanese prototype. The first model’s aerotor often overheated and the unit had to be shut off in order to drain the water from the tank. The second device had a larger compressor to drive the aerotor and added the convenience of an operating light source.

“These modifications made the mobile dental unit more practical, but it was still heavy and bulky to transport,” reported Ajarn Reda. “Based on an overview of the reported defects and problems recorded while using the first two applicances, the Department of Community Dentistry decided to locally produce four more units through the Thai Dental Product Company. The new design added a separate compressor, scaler with saliva injector, an ultrasonic scaler, an aerotor with optic fiber, low and high speed handpieces, triple syringe and a light curing unit.”

The innovative gadget was not only lightweight and portable, it cost 80,000 baht (US $2000 at that time), nearly one tenth the cost of the original. Moreover, the light curing machine allowed use with composites. The Faculty was delighted with the new design features and expanded its use over the next six years in remote areas including the provinces of Nong Khai, Sisaket, Surin, Chaiyaphum, Petchburi, Uttaradit, Nakorn Panom and Mukdahan. Villagers could now access a fuller range of services: surgery, drilling, and periodontal treatment involving scaling and sealants.

In 1999, Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who often gave lectures in social science at the Thai Military College in Nakorn Naiyoke Province, asked The Faculty to provide dental services to the poorly served schools in Nakorn Naiyoke. The Faculty responded with a final round of technical alterations - bigger scalers and light curing instruments in six new units - and established the HRH Princess Mobile Dental Service. The Nakorn Nayoke area schools received dental services on weekends through The Faculty’s special social welfare fund.

A Guide to the Provinces Mentioned in this Article

Central

Ayutthaya Former capital of Siam and major rice producer
Nakorn Nayok Former garrison town of Ayutthaya with Khao Yai National Park
Petchaburi Home to Kaeng Krachan, Thailand’s largest National Park

North

Chiang Rai Part of the Golden Triangle, home to (12.5%) hilltribe minorities
Uttaradit Former trade center of the Nan River hosts the world’s largest teak tree at 1500 years old, 37 meters tall, 9.87 meters circumference

Northeast

Chaiyaphum Home to the Siam Tulip, numerous waterfalls and national parks
Nakorn Phanom Heavily influenced by Lao culture, former home of Ho Chi Minh
Nong Khai Located along the Mekong River and border of Lao PDR
Sisaket Important town of 12th century Khmer empire
Surin

In the valley of the Mun river bordering Cambodia, 60% of the
population speak Khmer

 
Reference : Faculty of Dentistry, Mahidol University. Directions Magazine. Issue 2/2007. Page 38-43. (ISSN 1905-2588)

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