The painted signs outside roadside dental clinics, of hefty pliers plucking teeth from open mouths, are not representative of Cambodian dentistry. Thank goodness. In fact, dental care in Cambodia has come a long way in recent years, dental training has begun anew and the quality of dental procedures and services, and equipment, has improved ten-fold.
General director of Apsara Dental Clinic and vice president of the Cambodian Dental Association Dr. Poch Sophearoth, says of all the health services available in Cambodia, the dental sector is the most trusted.
“When Cambodians get sick they often go abroad, but when they have a dental problem, they use the services this country has to offer. There is no need to venture overseas, because quality dental procedures are available here,” Poch says.
He says Cambodia’s reputation for high-quality dentistry, at a reasonable price, is becoming known abroad; this reputation is attracting foreign patients to the country, in what the Cambodian Government is touting as “dental tourism”.
“Cambodia is seeing more and more foreigners coming for dental treatment, just as Thailand does.”
Owner of Bright Smile Dental Clinic Dr. Som Vichet agrees. “We have modern equipment and facilities, our services are cheaper and our treatment is on a par. Why would anyone bother to go overseas?”
“Except for major surgery,” Poch says, “Cambodian dentists can now perform most procedures with recognized quality, procedures such as, tooth bleaching and whitening; diastema closures; dental bridges; splints; diagrammatic representations of surgery; restorative surgery; periodontal and gum disease treatments, orthodontic work and root canals.”
“However, on the other hand, most of the Cambodian population, especially those in rural areas, cannot afford to go to the dentist — children are especially vulnerable.”
Director of Phnom Penh’s Pachem Dental Clinic Leag Ton says Cambodians are facing serious dental problems. “In developed countries, dental health is very important, but Cambodians … don’t place much importance on their teeth. Life goes on, even with tooth ache,” Leag says.
Head of Japanese-based NGO The Tooth & Tooth Dr.Wataru Shimazu has been working in conjunction with Pachem Dental Clinic for the last five years, and he says Cambodian children are particularly at-risk “When I worked with children on Koh Dach, I removed up to five teeth from every child on the island. In Japan every child goes to the dental clinic every six months, but in Cambodia most children have never been, and never will,” Shimazu says.
“Poor dental health does not cause death, but it does affect people’s daily lives. It will make people smell bad, speak poorly, eat with difficulty, have an unattractive smile, and other related health problems,” he cautions. “Being loved or unloved sometimes depends on these kinds of things.”