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NEWS | Aug. 22, 2022

Dentists from Solomon Islands, Pacific Partnership Brush up on Universal Oral Health Concerns

By Leslie Hull-Ryde, Commander Logistics Group Western Pacific

HONIARA, Solomon Islands -- For some, going to the dentist is a bit scary. It seems to be a universal fear, based on discussions between members of the Solomon Islands Dental Association (SIDA) and a Pacific Partnership 22 (PP 22) dentist, currently in Honiara, Solomon Islands, for the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission.

“Just the name ‘dentist’ will scare all patients; [going to see a dentist] will be scary for all patients” said Dr. William Waura, a dental officer who is part of the National Referral Hospital’s (NRH) oral surgery team.

To try to alleviate the shared concern of dental patients around the globe, Lt. Cmdr. Alice-Anne Alcorn, a U.S. Navy dentist with PP 22, shared insights on how practicing good oral hygiene during pregnancy, as a young child, during teen years and as senior adults can help prevent unwanted trips to the dentist.

“Dental health is not a priority for many people. They only seek dental treatment when they have complaints, especially when they experience pain or discomfort. However, when they seek dental treatment, the queues are often too long, and appointment schedules can stretch from 1 – 4 weeks,” said Dr Mishella Tutua, a dental officer at NRH.

“Therefore, our top priority is educating people on the importance of having good oral health.”

To that end, dental health professionals in Solomon Islands implemented several ongoing educational strategies. One line of effort is focused on reaching out to children or students in schools, where dentists promote oral hygiene and preventative dental treatments. In addition, oral health messages are broadcast on national radio.

An upcoming initiative creatively leverages a popular event in Solomon Islands.

Tutua says they hope to reach parents of very young children during the upcoming World Cup. She and her colleagues have arranged to include televised broadcasts on how to care for children’s teeth during the game. She believes this initiative will capture a large audience as this event draws much interest among Solomon Islanders.

Despite dental professionals’ and parents’ best efforts, cavities may appear; pain may develop, and teeth may decay.

To help stop the decay from spreading to other parts of the mouth, Alcorn introduced SIDA members to silver diamine fluoride, or SDF.

The solution basically “arrests” cavities from growing and infecting other teeth. The best part: it’s a pain-free treatment that helps stop discomfort, so patients in both Solomon Islands and the United States may be open to giving it a try.

“I learned about this new product on the market that is very conducive to use in rural areas,” Waura said.

“It’s very easy to use.”

He adds that he’d try it on patients, if the product was available.

During Pacific Partnership, he may have the chance to use SDF. Alcorn says that in the coming days when the combined team of dentists see patients, some local dentists will have the opportunity to use SDF as she and the PP22 team brought some along.

She described the benefits, side effects and how to administer the product, so that when they start seeing patients, everyone is set.

“We want to maximize the time we have together, so we’re conducting this subject-matter-expert exchange now. That way, we can be more productive when we meet and treat patients,” Alcorn said.

“Pacific Partnership is all about building relationships with fellow health care professionals, exploring how we can learn from one another so that together we can make our communities healthier.”

According to the SIDA, the two-hour discussion provided Solomon Islands dentists who attended continuing education credit.

“We don’t often get visiting dentists here. This is an opportunity for us to learn new things from [Alcorn’s] experience and expertise,” Tutua said.

“Dentistry is changing all the time. It’s good for us to learn new things and new ways of preventing and treating dental disease.”

Now in its 17th year, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.

In Honiara, the Pacific Partnership 2022 team is comprised of representatives from Australia, Japan, and the United States. PP22 events are coordinated with the host nation and are planned based on the requirements and requests of Solomon Islands. Engagements in Honiara will include medical care and exchanges, engineering projects, discussions on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and community outreach events, including band concerts.

PP22 is conducting missions throughout Oceania and the Western Pacific, having concluded visits to Vietnam, Palau, and the Republic of the Philippines.

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