Monday 28 August 2017
Abwantutora, on Northern Pentecost Island
Imagine a teenage boy in the seventies, confined to an isolated, snowy mountain town in northern Sweden, where summers are three months of the year and 10 degrees, winter the rest, dreaming of a tropical island in the South Pacific. Imagine him borrowing every book in the library about those islands and dreaming. That is I and that is “chimѐre”. I had to look the word up in a French dictionary and it means “in your dreams”. I am Christer Lindée, one of the two dentists and Ann, who wrote yesterday, is my wife. I didn’t quite manage to have my career as a dentist on a Pacific island but close. We have lived in far North Queensland for nearly 30 years. But now, the “chimѐre” is happening, in Vanuatu.
After having had rice and, chicken wings for lunch and dinner every day, the only variation being whether it is served with taro, cassava or yam, I can perfectly well understand that the locals take to white bread, Coca Cola, lollies etc but it sure isn’t good for their teeth. It is really sad to see how much dental decay there is here and along with that diabetes and other Western plagues. One town we visited had a dental chair at the hospital, not working mind you, no power, running water or instruments; that makes work here limited to extractions. The most important teeth which we call the six year molars, were pulled out on kids in Australia and Sweden in the forties; that is happening here now. When they are pulled out the other teeth move and the bite becomes a mess and on top of that the best chewing teeth are lost. It is sad to know but that is what we are doing. Sometimes we have to pull out front teeth too, on young people – sad but true.
My wife and I have volunteered in New Guinea but it is different there. Often the New Guineans don’t have access to shops and if there is no sugar, there is no tooth decay but they never brush their teeth so their teeth come loose from gum disease making them easy to pull out. Here in Vanuatu, we are pulling teeth out because of decay and the roots are big, long and firmly attached so extractions are much harder. Another interesting detail, for dentists at least, is that people get their wisdom teeth without trouble. In Australia, jaws have become smaller and when it is time for the wisdom teeth to come through they don’t fit. Here, the jaws are still big and all teeth fit without trouble. I even saw one guy with an extra tooth behind the wisdom tooth.
The other amazing difference to Australia is how good the kids are. As a dentist, you hardly ever do any treatment on an Australian kid without complaints, often even tears. Here they just sit in the chair and smile and after treatment, which in our case is only extractions – the worst of all treatment, they are happy and proud. My thoughts are that we are over-protecting our kids (it is called “curling parenting” after the sport where team members sweep the way in front of the puck) and we scare them by repeating things like “it won’t hurt”, “don’t worry”, “you are so brave” “you will be much better than mum” which obviously makes kids suspicious. They don’t know what to be afraid of but obviously there is something….
The boat has just dropped its anchor at Abwantutora, on Northern Pentecost Island, and after “smoko” which, strangely enough, is coffee and tea, we will go ashore for two days’ work. One dentist will do surveys and the other extractions. This is apparently the biggest town on the island so there will be plenty of patients. For the survey – that is good because we are a bit behind in numbers – so hopefully we will be able to catch up. So for now “so long”.