Scaling up to improve dental health of the marginalised

Members of DFTN during one of its programmes with the Orang Asli in Semporna, Sabah. — Photos: Dentistry for the Needy

AS SOMETHING that could not be done virtually, dental services were severely impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The risk of cross-infection in dentistry is considered high, since splatters and aerosols are produced during dental treatments and there is close proximity to the patient’s face.

For Dentistry for the Needy (DFTN), an organisation that provides free dental treatment for Orang Asli (in Gua Musang, Kelantan and Kuala Lipis, Pahang) and the homeless, this means pivoting their services during this period of health emergency.

“Covid-19 forced us to hold the free dental services for awhile. But even though we could not serve the community by giving them free services, DFTN found other ways to contribute, providing food to those who were affected by the pandemic and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the frontliners,” says DFTN president Dr Hanif Mohd Suffian in an email interview.

“Dentistry as we know it was seriously disrupted and was not able to return to pre-pandemic clinical routines. The significantly reduced workload during that time, coupled with robust training in a medical setting, made dentists prime candidates for volunteering in the fight against the disease. Most of our volunteers had experiences in joining medical frontliners during this period,” he shares.

For those who cannot afford to go to the dentist, DFTN offers a lifeline for better oral health.For those who cannot afford to go to the dentist, DFTN offers a lifeline for better oral health.

Serving the community

But in 2022, when the situation was better, DFTN resumed its dental community services, beginning with the Orang Asli, followed by the homeless in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur.

“Currently, we are fully active again in dental community services. In fact, we just came back from Semporna (Sabah) last month,” he says.

DFTN was a winner of the 2018 Star Golden Hearts Award (SGHA) and Hanif says clinching the award boosted the team’s spirit.

“It encouraged us to contribute even more and to help those without access to dental services. More people are aware of our existence after we won and reached out to us to become volunteers,” he says.

The DFTN team is currently occupied with community projects until the end of the year. Every second and fourth week of the month, they concentrate on dental services for the homeless in the Chow Kit area.

“We saw the Orang Asli in July and will see them again in August and September; we will go to Semporna in October and December for more rounds of dental services,” he says.

These outreach programmes, he says, keep the team motivated.

“There’s nothing like seeing the happy faces of our patients and hearing their feedback during the programmes, since most of them can’t afford to see a dentist,” Hanif says.

“We also receive tremendous support from other organisations such as Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (Usim), Feeding The Needy (FTN) and dental officers who volunteer for us.”

Hanif says everyone should take the Covid-19 pandemic as a lesson to continuously improve abilities to provide safe and effective services to patients, while protecting ourselves from work-related risks.

“I think throughout our DFTN journey, we also found that finding funding is as equally important as providing free dental treatment to marginalised communities, and I can’t thank SGHA enough for the funds and exposure we received to carry on with our mission,” he says.

“In conducting dental service programmes, networking and collaboration are very important because together, we can do bigger, better things and help even more people,” he says.

This story is part of a series of articles featuring past Star Golden Hearts Award winners. Nominations are now open for this year’s award. Uplift your heroes by nominating them at before July 31, 2023.

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

SGHA , Star Golden Hearts Award


Next In People

After her miscarriage, caring for succulents was a gift during a dark period
Sabah vet cycles 1,225km in world's oldest cycling event in under 90 hours
Young Tongans dream of the rugby meal ticket
Malaysian surgeon acquires exclusive Freddie Mercury plates at Sotheby's auction
Meet the cook caring for a historic bonsai collection
Musician Paul Simon coming to terms with 'frustrating' hearing loss
Penangite uploads content on Malaysia, gains over 3.4 million likes on TikTok
US counsellor collects dozens of career Barbies to inspire job seekers
Ireland's fishermen fear species migration as sea temperatures soar
Greta's legacy in Germany: Climate activists fight to keep the pace

Air Pollutant Index

Highest API Readings

    Select State and Location to view the latest API reading

    Source: Department of Environment, Malaysia

    Others Also Read