Dr Thao Truong
Dentist, Vietnam Field Trip 2014
It is a difficult task to condense such a life-changing and immensely rewarding experience into a few paragraphs but it is something I feel needs to be shared. In July 2014, I boarded a plane to Saigon, a place I had not visited for almost 12 years. Several months earlier, my colleague had mentioned the Vietnam Vision Project in passing conversation and I was immediately interested. Having only recently graduated from university, I was energetic and keen to apply my skills for a good cause. I had reservations at first as I was entering a very close-knit and organised group; I was worried that I would mess up, that I would be lonely and that I would not live up to expectations. But my doubts immediately subsided the moment I arrived in Vietnam; I was welcomed with open arms and was quickly acquainted with other members of the team. There were seasoned members who had been with the project since its humble beginning 13 years ago and there were new members such as myself, keen to get involved. It was refreshing to see so many dedicated people from different backgrounds taking time from their busy schedules to come together for a good cause.
The first couple of days were ‘the calm before the storm’. It involved some local sight-seeing and allowed time for team members to bond and prepare for the mission ahead. Early Monday morning we all poured into 2 buses that were taking us to our mission destination, Long An. I had butterflies in my stomach.
We were fortunate enough to have the Vietnam Dental team join us; without their support, the mission would definitely not have been as successful as it was.
The following days were hectic. The number of patients we saw over the 3 day period was immense. The team worked tirelessly with empathy and determination to drive us through those long days. The triage team had the nearly impossible task of prioritising patient treatments, especially in a young child with a mouth full of decay; where do we start? My heart sunk with every child that walked in with severe dental decay and multiple dental infections. The trend of poor oral hygiene was rampant. Most of the patients we saw had never seen a dentist nor have they been taught how to properly maintain their oral health.
With the short time we had for each appointment and the extent of dental disease, I wondered whether we would be making any difference for these patients. However, one child, in particular, made me realise my role and helped me appreciate why I was there. Her name was Mai, 13 years of age, bright eyes and well behaved, she loved to smile but most of her teeth were decayed. She was nervous to meet me but listened tentatively to everything I said. I restored several anterior teeth but I felt it wasn’t enough. Despite this, she was overcome with happiness when she saw that her front teeth were white and no longer black/brown. I showed her how to brush and advised her to reduce her sweet intake.
"She thanked me profusely and said that she wanted to be a dentist to ‘help other people smile’ like I did for her. I was overcome with emotion; she had pinpointed exactly why I had become a dentist to begin with and why I joined the Vietnam Vision Project."
The first task on arrival to Long An hospital was setting up the surgeries. Indeed, this crucial aspect of the mission is often overlooked but required the collective effort of all members and superior organisation skills.
"Within a very short time frame, I watched in amazement as empty rooms quickly transformed into functioning surgical rooms."
I am humbled and overwhelmed by the dedication and hard work of all the team members and appreciate the enormous effort that came with organising such a mission. Everyone worked tirelessly and put 110% into the task at hand. I would like to thank the entire team for making the trip such an incredible experience. I met some amazing, beautiful people along the way and have memories to last a lifetime. The trip was an undeniable success and I look forward to many more.