3 Jul 2015

Later this year a group of three dental students from Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry will embark on an elective project in Peru to try and make a difference in local oral healthcare. Fourth-year students Sarah Khalil, Sapna Patel and Amreeta Aytain will visit Arequipa in Peru and work in some new and sometimes challenging conditions to deliver care to the local community. Sarah was generous enough to take some time out of her study and preparations to talk to us and share her thoughts on the mission to make a difference in a difficult setting.

Q. Are you looking forward to getting to Peru?
Yes, very. There is less than a month to go now and we all really can't wait to get out there and start working. The build-up has been quite long and now it is just around the corner we are all hugely excited and raring to go.

Q. What outcome are you hoping to achieve through your visit?
In Peru incidences of dental disease are high and visits to the dentist are rare. Usually only when the pain becomes unbearable does a visit to a dental professional occur, therefore lot of the patients we will see will be presenting with more advanced problems than we see in the UK. We hope to make a difference to the patients on an individual basis by giving them effective care which has a positive impact on their lives.

We are also hoping to educate these patients; this will not only help them personally in the future but also enable them to spread the message of good oral care to more people.

Q. What are the main challenges you think you will face?
The biggest challenge we will face will be the language and cultural differences. In preparation we have been learning Spanish for months and although we are quite confident of being understood we are all obviously still slightly apprehensive about how effectively we will be able to communicate our messages in a way everyone will be able to take on board.

The fact that the patients will have quite advanced problems will also be a big challenge. In the UK there is an emphasis on preventative care to avoid treatments so this is a side of dentistry we don't experience too often, although it is something we are trained and fully prepared for.

Limited resources may also be an issue, although the equipment in Peru is fit for purpose we will not be spoiled for choice as much as back home. We are taking our own personal protection equipment (PPE) with us to help but still will need to adapt to their way of working.

Q. Why did you decide to take part?
This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Being able to experience a new culture and way of working is not something you often get a chance to do so I really jumped at the chance. As I mentioned before, being given the chance to really make a difference to people who are in need of it will be really life changing to them and myself.

We have all researched the oral health problems in Peru and understand that we will see things we don't often see and are prepared to tackle these head on. For example, there are high instances of mouth cancer due to tobacco use and through our education programme we are hoping to really make a difference in the fight against this deadly disease.

Q. What else do you think you will get out of it personally?
On a personal level I am looking forward to experiencing dentistry in new and challenging conditions. This mission will allow me to expand my horizons and force me to think outside of the box when it comes to how I approach and deal with certain issues.

This opportunity will hopefully help me become a better dentist in the UK, by allowing me to grow professionally and personally, as it is giving me the chance to experience far more than I thought I would within dentistry.

Q. Why have you decided to use crowdfunding to help raise the money?
Crowdfunding was an entirely new concept to us. We were introduced to it by friends and thought it would be a fun, innovative and inclusive way to raise funds towards our trip.

Crowdfunding allows us to give something in return for donations. We are therefore really able to thank the people who take their time out and read about our mission and then pledge money. In exchange for donations we are offering pens, beauty treatments, paintings, electric toothbrushes and many more exciting things.

Q. How is the fundraising going?
So far we have received fantastic feedback regarding our fundraising efforts but we still need more donations to reach our target. We are promoting through social media and the university has been very supportive in pushing our vision.

We are more determined than ever to reach our goal in order to offer the best possible support for the patients in Peru who really need it as a matter of urgency.

Q. Why did you choose to go into dentistry?
Dentistry was hugely appealing to me as it offered the possibility to have a very positive effect on people's life. Enabling someone to have the confidence to show off their smiles and spread the message of good oral health is something which is hugely rewarding.

The chance to make a big difference to someone's quality of life on a daily basis is fantastic. Everything I have seen and experienced since entering the industry has really reinforced to me personally that dentistry is a career like no other and I think this trip will further this while allowing me to spread the message of good oral health.

Q. Why did you choose the Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry?
One big thing that makes this school special is its work within the community through primary care trusts. We are encouraged to take the expertise and knowledge we learn and spread it into the community to help people; this really allows us to see and understand the difference we can make to people's lives.

This school is also exceptional in that it allows students to be patient facing within the first year. Most other schools do not provide this opportunity until the second, or even third, year. This evidence-based learning approach really helps to prepare us for the rest of our careers from an early stage and makes us the best dentists we can possibly be.

Q. Where do you see yourself going from here?
I really hope to continue to help people and have the opportunity to make their lives better through my work. There is so much to experience within dentistry and at the moment it is difficult to know exactly what I want to do.

Obviously opportunities like our elective in Peru will give us all the skills and experiences which we can bring home and take forward into our careers making us better dentists and allowing us to spread the message of good oral health far and wide.