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Clinic tackles root cause of dentistry woes

Western practice says it is working to make sure local dental industry isn’t just pulling teeth

I'VE HAD ... EMAILS FROM PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA WHO WANT CONSULTATIONS ON THEIR VISIT TO CAMBODIA"

ALTHOUGH locals, expats and tourists alike are generally sceptical of the Kingdom’s healthcare industry, international staff at Phnom Penh’s European Dental Clinic say it has raised standards of dental care in Cambodia.

Founded in 1994 by dentist Dr Eric Le Guen and technician Philippe Guibert, the clinic was the first of its kind in Cambodia.

“Before that, everyone was going to Bangkok,” European Dental Clinic dentist Dr Deborah Moore said.

The practice provides a range of services, akin to a dental clinic in the West, including hygienist services, implants, tooth extraction, as well as orthodontics offered monthly by a visiting specialist from Bangkok.

“We offer everything, really,” said Dr Moore.

Like many quality dentists in the region, the clinic offers western services at a little over Southeast Asian prices.

A standard consultation costs US$20, while a basic cleaning service costs $40. More complicated – and expensive – procedures, such as gum surgery and root canals, are also offered by the clinic’s four staff – three dentists from France, Cambodia and the United Kingdom and one French technician.

Given the pricing, most customers are foreigners, explains Dr Moore, but a few medical tourists also drop in.

“I’ve had a few emails from people in Australia who want consultations on their visit to Cambodia,” says Dr Moore, adding though that such visits are rare.

“I think most tourists care about their teeth before they come to Cambodia,” jokes Guibert.

The volume of customers the clinic receives varies, but Guibert estimates they see about 100 per month. In addition to their Phnom Penh clinic, European Dental Clinic also operates a branch in Ho Chi Minh City.

Before starting the clinic here, Guibert explains he was working with NGOs in rural areas providing dental care to poor Cambodians, a service the clinic still provides on Saturdays.

“Sixteen years after, we still offer this service…. We’ve known Cambodia for a long time,” he says.

Among the innovations the clinic brought to dentistry in Phnom Penh was the first dental lab, which Guibert says helped set the standard.

“In Phnom Penh, you now have many clinics with dental labs. Because we were the first here, other dentists saw that and realised they needed to open labs as well,” he says.

The domestic supply of dentistry products necessary to run a clinic is surprisingly good, says Guibert, with 90 percent available over the counter in Cambodia. The remaining supplies are imported from Europe and North America.

Although most dentists working at the clinic are foreigners, Guibert explained they have regularly cooperated with local dentists to raise standards.

“When we started … we worked with the old dentists in Phnom Penh. We had lots of exchange programs,” said Guibert. “Today, the quality of Khmer dentists isn’t so bad.”

The clinic is expensive by Phnom Penh standards, but Guibert says they try to avoid out-pricing Cambodian practices, which have also benefited from professional exchanges.

In Cambodia there are just two schools of dentistry – the private International University, which offers a five-year program, and the University of Health Science, which offers a seven-year program and sees 16 dentists graduating each year.

Many of the country’s dentists, however, lack university qualifications meaning there is a large number of unqualified dentists in the Kingdom.

“The training is okay at the universities,” says Dr Moore, “but there’s no law saying dentists must have gone to the university.”

This means the provinces are a poor place to have toothache.

“In a remote area, there’s just a guy who pulls somebody’s tooth out,” says Dr Moore.

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