Airmen treat and educate at Tonga dental clinic

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachelle Coleman
  • Pacific Angel-Tonga Public Affairs
Two tables pushed together and a stack of plastic chairs serve as an operating table for men, women and children of all ages who wait patiently for their turn to see a dentist.

The dental clinic was one of four clinics setup in the auditorium of Mailefihi Siu'ilikutapu College in Neiafu, Tonga. American, Australian, and Tongan dentists and technicians are working together to ensure they treat as many patients as possible each day of the Pacific Angel-Tonga’s health care services outreach program July 21-25.

"The majority of care is exclusively extractions and exams," said Lt. Col. Catherine Kanwetz, the lead for PACANGEL dental services.

While the local hospital is capable of treating dental patients, the PACANGEL clinic helps identify problems to improve patient flow.

"They are able to do restorative dentistry, such as fillings, they can fix dentures; they can do root canals up there and also extractions so basically we're just supplementing them," Kanwetz said.

The PACANGEL mission allowed multiple services and countries to work together and exercise their interoperability.

"It's really fun, everybody has a lot to bring to the table,” Kanwetz said. “I've really been enjoying hearing about their stories."

The open setup has also allowed for personnel to get a glimpse into the work other parts of the clinic are doing.

"If I could do it again I would," said Senior Airman Ivan Navarro, a PACANGEL-Tonga dental technician. "I've met such great people just all different parts of the world and different bases. I get to see how other people do their jobs. Being in the dental field we don't get to see what everybody else does."

Navarro also had the opportunity to step out into the community and visit four schools on the island to assist with the hospital's Mali Mali Program. Mali mali means smile in Tongan.

"The message of the Mali Mali is to (tell) the kids how important it is to brush their teeth every day," said Talanoa Vaka, a Prince Ngu Hospital dental therapist. "The problem is we have a survey a few years ago, the DMFT is very bad. The DMFT is an international measurement for decay, missing and filled teeth."

The program visits the 22 primary schools and 10 preschools on island weekly as well as 11 schools on the surrounding islands quarterly.

"We kind of share what we know and kind of hope that they take on what we taught them and keep up with them as time goes on," Navarro said. "It's not something you get to do every day -- to come to an island in the middle of the South Pacific. I mean the people have been just awesome, very nice. Just the chance to help people out, you know -- the ones who really need it."

PACANGEL is a total force, joint and combined humanitarian assistance operation led by Pacific Air Forces. PACANGEL 2014 includes general health, dental, optometry, pediatrics, and engineering programs as well as various subject-matter expert exchanges.