Having just returned from Cambodia I can say that the warmth of the Cambodian smile is something that will never leave me. This is especially so given how close to the surface Cambodia’s genocide still is and how pervasive was the social impact during the Pol Pot era (1974-1979).
The Cambodian smile suffered in more ways than one during this period. Like many other things in Cambodia, Dental Health reached a low point in Cambodia during the Pol Pot era. With education, currency, public transport and the postal system abolished not much good really happened anywhere.
Following 1979, and as the wheels are gradually being put back on in Cambodia there was a recommencement of a dental school in Cambodia (1985), and new Dentists have been receiving formal qualified training. These now add to the many ‘apprenticeship’ trained dentists and dental nurses who comprise much of the dental workforce in Cambodia.
An oral health survey in 1991 showed that only 6.4% of Cambodian children in Phnom Penh had no decay. This survey has led to a national Oral Health Plan (1992-2000), and gradually the dental health picture is turning around with a combination of education, service delivery and provision of oral health products including into rural areas.
Notwithstanding, the World Dental Federation still estimated that Cambodia had a Dentist to population ratio of 1:119,000 in 2011 (Australia is currently approximately 1:2000 by contrast). The ratio is slanted even worse against the Cambodian country side where some of my journey was spent.
This goes a long way to explaining the occasional gaps and dark holes that are impossible to ignore in the Cambodian smile, not that this changed a thing for me (and not that I was looking!). I particularly enjoyed visiting Kampot (the home of Kampot pepper) and Andong province where these photos were taken.