Dental students make difference in Nepal

Dental students make difference in Nepal

29 Jun 2011

La Trobe University academic, Ron Knevel has introduced a program for students that he hopes will make a difference to the lives of Nepalese children and provide the skills that they would not acquire whilst working in Australia alone.

teeth-standardThird year oral health coordinator and lecturer, Ron Knevel said that a two-week placement in Nepal has had a profound effect on the six students involved. At the same time, a dental hygienist education program in Kathmandu is close to gaining recognition from the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

‘The students had experience with totally different patients than they would normally treat. In contrast to Western society, oral cancer is the most common cancer in Nepalese males. Coming face to face with conditions such as this, and seeing so many children and adults with untreated dental decay and often pain has made them aware that oral health has quality of life aspects to it’ Mr Knevel said.

‘They experienced firsthand what it’s like to work in an under-developed country. Their experience with children in orphanages who do not have much but share everything was humbling for them.

‘The lack of modern equipment taught them to be more creative and improvise with the tools available whilst still achieving a good outcome for the patient.’

Oral health student, Bridgette Davey describes the trip as ‘a once in a lifetime experience.’

‘I was excited to learn about oral health outside of our community in Bendigo, Australia and experiencing first-hand what this entailed. I wanted to see if what we were treating here in Bendigo was similar to the treatment occurring in Nepal, and if not, then why?

‘For me, the most impressive moment of my time in Nepal was seeing the gratitude and enthusiasm shown by the villagers after we provided treatment and care. The emotion shown by individuals and particularly the older patients made everything worthwhile and it reassured me that this is the profession that I want to be involved in.’

For oral health student, Ying Zhang, there were a number of surprising aspects of the trip.

‘We were able to operate effectively in relatively poor conditions with few resources. We also were able to do so much good work in such little time. It was also surprising how effectively we were able to communicate with our patients even with language barriers often with the assistance of our local counterparts translating.’

The purpose of the trip was to empower communities so that they can maintain the health of their village after the students had left. Students adopted a health promotion approach and trained local women in oral health.

Ms Zhang said oral hygiene instruction and education on prevention of oral health disease at a very basic level was an important component of the trip due to the minimal contact Nepalese rural communities have had with oral health programs.

‘We delivered this information in a culturally sensitive manner so that behavioural change and oral health outcomes could be achieved’ Ms Zhang said.

‘This experience has also equipped us with the means to better manage poor and underprivileged patients within our own country, as we took home the knowledge gained from our time in this developing nation and will integrate it into our daily practice within Australia.

‘I found the visit extremely rewarding from both personal and professional perspectives. It will stay with me for a long time and I would thoroughly recommend the project to any future students.’

Mr Knevel stressed the benefits of teaching oral health practice to Nepalese communities. ‘We decided to use a preventative approach to our work instead of emergency treatment only as our focus is on empowerment and enabling people to prevent future disease.

‘The program we adopted in Nepal teaches women and children how to develop oral health programs for themselves,’ said Mr Knevel.

‘The process was very frustrating in the beginning because it was one step forward and two steps back but we have made a lot headway so it’s been well worth the effort.’

While he was in Nepal, Mr Knevel organised an international symposium on dental hygiene in Kathmandu to promote the development of the dental hygiene profession in Nepal and demonstrate changes that had been achieved.

Delegates included professionals from Japan, US, Finland, Portugal, Netherlands, Australia and Germany.

Delegates were impressed with the Kathmandu education program, which is now close to getting recognition from the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

During the trip, Mr Knevel became an honorary member of the Nepal Dental Hygiene Association. This means he can now represent Nepal dental hygienists in the International Federation of Dental Hygiene, so Nepal can now apply for membership and have their education program endorsed. This is quite an achievement for a developing country.

This was the first student placement in Nepal for La Trobe University students but Mr Knevel is planning another placement in Nepal for next year’s oral health students.




For more interview or photo opp, please contact
Ron Knevel, third year oral health coordinator and lecturer, Ph (03) 5444 7543
Bridgette Davey, oral health student, M 0400 838 923

Please note that Ms Zhang is currently overseas, returning to Australia on 1 September 2011.

Media enquiries

Zerin Knight, Ph (03) 5444 7375 F +613 5444 7526 M 0428 463 161 E




La Trobe Media Release RSS