The Heights

Updated: May 23, 2016

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Dental Hygiene students teach good oral hygiene in Vietnam

This year’s winter break was one a group of Foothill College dental hygiene students won’t soon forget.  Instead of working, shopping, or visiting with family, they traveled to Vietnam and helped over 1,000 children learn the value of good oral hygiene. Last summer, Cindy Ngo, mother of dental hygiene student Diana Ngo, heard that several students from the college’s traveled to Honduras each summer as part of Medical Brigades, an international organization that provides healthcare to rural communities.

Ngo, a native of Vietnam, was interested in doing something similar in her home country. She approached Phyllis Spragge, Dental Hygiene Program Director, and the two began planning.

Within months, 25 second-year students began fundraising with the help of Go Fund Me accounts. Ngo partnered with organizations in Vietnam to loan some of the necessary onsite equipment and businesses, including Google and General Electric, established matching grants. Dental corporations and local dentists also donated supplies, including toothbrushes and dental floss, for the students to take with them.

Before they departed for Vietnam, the students put together a series of instructional videos as part of their Community Dental Health class, which focuses on developing community dental health programs. The videos, delivered in Vietnamese, discussed the importance of proper preventative care, including regular brushing and flossing.

“In Vietnam, they don’t have a culture of preventative dental care. You visit the dentist when you have something wrong,” says Spragge. “It was important that the videos were fun and quick so we didn’t lose their attention.

Once they arrived in Vietnam, the group, including advisors Spragge and Dr. Ken Horowitz, family and student translators, visited three schools and orphanages located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Each morning, they worked together to set up makeshift clinics consisting of dental instruments, cleaning supplies, and lawn chairs, which doubled as dental chairs.

The students were surprised to learn that many of the children had never picked up a toothbrush before.  Several of the students also had special needs and required assistance simply learning how to hold the brush.  In addition to proper brushing techniques, the students also administered fluoride treatment to both the children and their caregivers.

"A lot of the kids had gross tooth decay and no access to what we consider basic dental needs in America," says second year student Vivian Vuong. "I hope we provided them with the education they need to care for their teeth for the rest of their lifetime."

In the end, it wasn’t just the children who learned from the dental hygiene students. Every morning the students would gather for a morning huddle to discuss the day’s events. Spragge says it was touching to hear how the experience transformed their view of the world.

“In any health profession, there is a tradition of giving back,” she says. “You learn to leave your problems at the door and focus on the patient. It didn’t matter if it was humid or dirty. We were there to help those children."

Spragge and Horowitz hope to return to Vietnam annually and are exploring ways to send supplies throughout the year to the sites they visited. If you are interested in supporting future trips, please contact the Foothill-De Anza Foundation.

Students interested in applying to the Dental Hygiene program are encouraged to visit the program website. The application deadline is typically in early February.

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