Mark Tuffley Oral Surgeon – In 2015, Dr. Malcolm Campbell, President of the Timor Children’s Foundation, asked a little “Would you like to come to Timor and lend a hand”. I thought for a moment and said “yes”, and started the journey to Dili and Lospalos in the Eastern tablelands.
The majority of citizens of East Timor (or more accurately, Timor Leste) do not have access to dental care. Some dentists in Timor Leste are centrally located in Dili, a relatively large city without emergency dental care and threatening facial swelling is not uncommon even in children as young as three years old due to dental diseases.
Mark Tuffley Oral Surgeon
We were blessed to be invited to visit every medical center in Lospalos that is connected to the Protestant church and is ‘managed’ by Monica, a doctor from Minnesota whose husband is a pastor. The local community hospital provides antibiotics and analgesia, but cannot provide dental care. Groups of women and men of the community help in providing medical care and general medical management but there is no effective verbal support or education.
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In this arrangement we arrived with an eight-hour journey from Dili giving a week of intense work and wonderful accommodation in a workshop led by the equally wonderful Madre Julia. The singing at the meeting would rival any organized choir in the country and after giving a talk on oral health to the 60 girls at the home they sang the national anthem with joy in honor of our team.
Madre Julia put her hand on my arm when we left this year and said “You will come back, won’t you!”
Dr. Mark and Kelly traveled to Timor Leste in June 2019 to work with families in Los Palos to improve their oral health. PHOTO: A child from East Timor being treated by dentists Malcolm Campbell and Mark Tuffley, and nurse Bec Apps.
You may not know his name, but Brisbane dentist Malcolm Campbell is a hero to hundreds of children in East Timor.
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Once a year, with the help of other volunteers, he fills a truck with a mobile dental clinic and travels through troubled countries to provide dental care for orphans and the poor.
He has just returned from his fifth trip to the region since 2013, when two dental teams, including an oral surgeon, two dentists and volunteer dental assistants, treated hundreds of children in Timor.
“I don’t even know his name but he is suffering and he only represents the pain that the children of Timor are going through.
“He’s just a little kid with these rotten teeth and we just thought we should do something to help him.”
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The World Health Organization states that a child under the age of 12 should not have more than three decayed, missing, or full teeth.
“I started my career as a school [primary] dentist, and I have never seen anything as bad as I saw in Timor,” he said.
There are only 10 dentists in East Timor – that means one dentist for every 120,000 people.
Access to health care is a major problem in Timor, with about 70 percent of the population living in remote villages separated by mountains and bad roads.
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Dr. Campbell spent his own time raising $15,000 to buy portable dental equipment, to begin initial treatment at the Samaritan Children’s Home in Dili, one of 40 orphanages in the country.
These houses provide shelter and care for young orphans when their parents are no longer able to care for them.
Dr Campbell first visited the orphanage in 2013 as part of a church group and came home shocked and appalled by what he saw, but determined to return.
“All the volunteers give their time and money to come and pay for their accommodation, so we only need money to pay for equipment and supplies,” he said.
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The program also supports schools in Dili, and people living in the remote community of Lospalos, a seven-hour drive east of Dili.
“Through the Australian Embassy, we are dealing with the Ministry of Health in East Timor, trying to see how we can help them create a school dental program,” he said.
“We hope to work with Griffith University to implement this project – so my goal is to help them develop some of their dental programs in Timor.”
“Since the country is developing, the availability of processed food is increasing, so these children are now only eating dirt,” he said.
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“I have a picture of a school tuckshop where it’s just tables full of sweets and biscuits, so the decay is terrible.”
“I had a wonderful upbringing – I had a blessed life and it paid off,” he said.
“I have a lot to offer and that’s what I really want but I also want to see how it affects other volunteers who come and how it goes and what they get out of it.”