Sunday, April 06, 2008

It's Like Pulling Teeth

Yesterday, I sat with a woman who was dieing in Prem Dan. She had a mouth full of extreme infections, and rotten teeth. (The day before she was able to sit up with my help, but when I tried to feed her, even the softest rice, she was unable to eat it because of the extreme pain in her mouth.) I find it so disheartening that there are, as far as I am able to ascertain from 'Sister In Charge', NEVER dentists that volunteer in Kolkata with the Missionaries of Charity.
The people NEED them so much here, they Need tooth brushes to be donated, and they Need education. But there is NO ONE here.

So, I have volunteered to pull teeth. I have never done this before, only seen it done when I worked with Dr. Smith, for 6 months, as an assistant in his clinic. Yet if the 'Sister In Charge approves of my offer then I will do it.

I know what you are thinking. You need not say that I am unqualified or that I might do more harm than good, because I know these things already.

What I need you to tell me is the names of the antibiotics which are most effective on oral infections. I need you to help me to get the proper instruments, and a good book on what to do if an extraction goes wron. I need information about the different types of oral infections, and how best to treat them. I know there must be thousands, but I need to know more about what I see.
I will not be slicing or attempting anything fancy, but when I see that a patients gums have receded so far that I am already able to see the tops of the roots, then I will give them the opportunity to have that tooth pulled.

So they can eat, so they can live.

Unlike my friend who died today.

Dear Family,
Please ask Uncle John if he can send me the proper instruments and anything else that will help me.


Kate said...


try contacting these folks

they may be able to help w advice etc.



David Krump said...

Though extraction might seem like a minor surgical procedure, keep in mind that there will be blood, and that the tools must be properly sanitized to avoid spreading infections from one person to the next, and you'll need sterilized gloves and etc.

It sounds dangerous without training in proper procedures, for both you and those you are trying to help, Havilah.

There's a reason experts study this sort of thing for years.

The risk for post-operative infections in such an environment seems way too great to be of much benefit. What happens when they get dry-socket, or other infections and you have no antibiotics for them? They could very easily die. Oral infections are quite serious business. Contact Doctors without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres). They might be your best bet for professional help. I know they are in India. Bahir, I think.

Here's a link to contact them:

I doubt surgical instruments would make it through customs. They'd look valuable and likely be taken, right?

I don't doubt that you could extract teeth. That part, especially if they aren't impacted, if they are as loose as you describe, seem easy enough. It's all the periphery knowledge and high-risk of infection and disease transmission that seems most dangerous to potential patients, to say nothing of the danger to you personally.

I admire the initiative, but think you should consult a professional.

One difficult thing about helping others is the recognition of our own limitations.

I think it's the Hippocratic Oath, the one that medical professionals take which states. "First, do no harm."

Infections could kill them. Consider a letter writing campaign to Walgreens and other large pharmacies soliciting donations of oral rinses, hydrogen peroxide, listerine, flouride. You're eloquent enough, and these industry giants might enjoy the opportunity to write-off donations of such supplies. Hell, a great big jug of hydrogen peroxide might be just what the doctor (you) ordered.

Love you, Havilah. Yes, we got your postcard. I'm swimmingly busy right now.


David Krump said...

Ignore my suggestion to contact Walgreens. I was just writing a letter on your behalf to them when I discovered, through their website, that they do not give donations to religious organizations of any kind. That's something to think about.

I'll check some others. Can't promise anything. Right now, I'm shooting for 100 toothbrushes, 200 tubes of toothpaste, 25 bottles of flouride, 25 bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide, 25 bottles of Listerine (or generic equivalent), and a partridge in a pear-tree.

David Krump said...


What's your address? Or the address where any goods I locate should be posted.

Love you, sister Oot.