March 12, 2019
Lindsey Cunningham (Dental Medicine, ’19) always wanted to travel internationally and spend time performing dentistry in low income areas. She originally wanted to become a dental assistant but decided to further her education and work towards becoming a dentist.
When she learned about UNE’s Cambodia exchange program, she jumped at the chance to take part.
“I knew that this was a potential opportunity,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons I decided to come here. I wanted to see what it would be like to do a foreign dental trip. It was everything I imagined and more.”
In 2017, Cunningham was part of the first UNE team to work with students and faculty at the University of Puthisastra (UP) in Phnom Penh. She spent two weeks in Cambodia with Nicole Kimmes, D.D.S., associate dean of Curriculum Integration and Analytics in the College of Dental Medicine (CDM); Travis Erickson, M.Ed., assistant dean of Student Affairs in the CDM; and Tara Prasad (Dental Medicine, ’18).
“Partnering with the University of Puthisastra has provided a unique experience for our students to be immersed in the dental education and outreach environment in a developing country,” said Kimmes, who organizes the trips with Callum Durward, B.Sc., B.D.S., M.D.Sc., M.P.H., D.Com.H., dean of the UP Faculty of Health Sciences.
The goals of the trips are to increase cultural competency, instill social responsibility and foster awareness of global oral health issues.
“It made me richer and broadened my world perspective,” Cunningham explained. “A trip like this takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you a deeper understanding of people.”
Cambodia has an extremely high prevalence of tooth decay. More than 90 percent of the country’s 6-year-old children have decay, most of which is untreated.
The Healthy Kids Cambodia initiative places emphasis on using sustainable and culturally appropriate approaches to increase oral health literacy and improve behaviors, such as daily brushing and fluoride use.
“The resources to address this problem with a conventional approach are just not available in Cambodia,” explained Kimmes. “This partnership gives our students the opportunity to work alongside Cambodian dental students and see firsthand how a non-governmental organization is using an alternative strategy to engage communities in long-term improvement of health”.
Jon Ryder, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the College of Dental Medicine, says the issues Cambodia is working to solve are not unique to that country.
“In fact, Northern New England shares many of the same access to care issues as Cambodia,” he stated. “Exchange programs like this are also about discovering diverse solutions to common access to health care problems.”
Barry Saltz, D.D.S., assistant clinical professor in the College of Dental Medicine, says the Cambodia exchange program is an important part of the learning experience for students.
“Helping underserved people who may not have the availability of the dental care that we have here is part of giving back,” he stated. “We can bring some techniques we have in America that they may not have in other countries.”
Saltz, Deputy Regent for the International College of Dentists, presented a check for $688 on behalf of the organization to CDM to offset some of the costs of the program and to highlight the significance of the international partnership with Cambodia.
A second team composed of Siranjit Kaur (Dental Medicine, ’19), Yoojin Lim (Dental Medicine, ’19) and Bernhard Bringewald, D.M.D., F.A.G.D., assistant clinical professor in the CDM, made the trip in November 2018.
UNE CDM is currently working with the administration at UP to arrange for the first two Cambodian students to come to Maine. Cunningham hopes the experience is as rewarding for them as it was for her.
“It's one of the best things I've ever done,” she said. “I know that it will always be a part of my life.”