An Overview of Dental Camp

I was recommended to detail about the work that was done during the dental camps I visited last month. I figured that by sharing, I can perhaps shed some light on a part of India that few people are aware of.

Mommy ❤ Right before the start of the second camp

My mother, Dr Pratibha Athavale, has been conducting dental camps as a freelancer for seventeen years. This means there is no government, religious or politically driven body behind this. She ties up with different socio-voluntary organisations whose the only objective is “seva” or service. And that too in the part of the country mostly neglected. The states she has visited are mostly the seven sisters in the North-East India, home to hundreds of tribes and thousands of dialects, which are often limited since there is NO script.

Some of the tribes are relatively developed and have access (albeit broken) to power, network, education etc. On the other hand, some are still clad in loincloths and lead primitive lifestyles. The sanitation checks start from making them aware of the importance of washing their hands and mouths let alone brushing their teeth. This has led to her working with and for all sorts of people – and the takeaway is the same. We may be distinct in terms of culture and traditions but our core values are the same.

Meet my buddy – he came every day to Hi5! 🙂 P.S. Not a single child cried while they were being administered injections.

This year the camp was in Manipur covering three tribal villages and the camps were for three days in each. A little less than 1000 patients were treated in total – the treatments including scalings and extractions. Medication was provided and clinical advise was also given on a case by case basis. Needless to say, this was completely free of cost! It was amazing to see my mom in such a different light. She was super-woman! At 64, she was on her feet from 7 to 7 with cups of tea and light snacks as sustenance. She needed no fuel – she was operating on pure will and determination.

The dental camp in full swing! Setting up the camp is so much fun 🙂 Thinking through the layout, the power, the lighting!

How does a dental camp work given the complexity of equipments? Well, over the years based on her experiences, Mom has put together a portable clinic complete with a dental chair, compressor, sterilizer and the other fancy stuff. A doctor by profession, she channeled her untapped engineering mind into assembling this.

A great team based in the different states ensures operational stability in the camps. These people have given up their families, their jobs and dedicated their lives completely for the upliftment of these tribes. While the impact at the ground level happens in oral health, another subtle yet powerful turn takes place in the minds of the people. There is a human connect happening with these tribes that has never happened before or has always been at a very base level. This medium starts a dialogue which can further progress into a potential road to bring them into mainstream society!

Two local assistants from the first village – They picked up the work in a flash and were eager to learn.

I was lucky to be a part of this movement for sometime and tried to make a small difference. After a long time, I came back with a sense of community! It’s a good feeling alright.

Do let me know if you have more questions or wish to support the different initiatives taking place for the North-East states.


Not Just a Mother

My sister (L), Mom and Toothy Me (R)
My sister (L), Mom and Toothy Me (R)

My earliest memory of my mom is climbing into her lap to have chocolate milk. Sitting in her lap was mandatory to gulp it down! Her smell was home with traces of Pears soap. It stays the best sniff my nose has ever taken!

She is a dental surgeon and has built an extremely ethical brand for herself. She loves travelling and participates in treks including the mighty Everest Base Camp. Along with the majestic sights of Himalayas, she also took in the adversities faced by the locals lost in the mountains. Her pricking conscious drove her into building the legacy she inherited from her father –

“You can serve the nation through your profession.”

In 2000, she partnered with a non-profit to conduct free dental camps in the dense North East India – where help hovered at a non-existent level. Armed with medicine bags, makeshift equipment and a steely resolve she started a life-changing journey, approximately 2000 miles from home. Red tape, extreme weather, minimal transport, zero network, language barriers and patients caught in a time rip were few of the problems she faced. Yet those people, touched that a doctor actually cared to visit, went all out to support this 100 pound female.

Fourteen years, seven states and thousands of patients later, she has set up five clinics where doctors come all year around. She also published a book where she breathes life into her experiences and received numerous national awards for her work and book.

Yet, it took me years to truly comprehend the gravity of her work and the outstanding contribution she is making. Because, she was still MOM! I was too naïve to understand that my mom is also a woman – an exceptional woman carving her identity.

She was there for our exams, shopping trips, family functions, weekend getaways, spring cleaning! From gently waking us for school to waiting up for lunch, she was there and she was there in her element. She did about a thousand and one jobs a day and effortlessly loved, laughed, comforted and supported without even a sigh of exhaustion. The night before her book launch, she was asking for my food wishlist to carry back to hostel. She found the time to make my favourite sweets and get me a new dress. All before one of the most profound events of her life!

Until she was on the stage and I heard prominent dignitaries speaking about her, she was MOM! That evening, resplendent in flashlights, she became Dr. Pratibha Athavale.

Woman. Doctor. Humanitarian.

How did I fail so miserably in understanding the woman I love so fiercely? Yes, I was proud of her; I could wax eloquent to show off her work and that she is my mom. But the essence of the woman within her, of the caregiver inside her got woefully sidelined.

Now as she takes the spotlight I am happy that I feel and recognize the heart and soul of her work. I connect with her at a level beyond belief. We converse as two women. But the best part? In all her speeches – first and foremost she is still being Mom, seeking us out in the vast audience to share her happiness and appreciation.

Mum! 🙂 You are on fire…