Bustling Bangalore in India’s south has two famous faces: one as a booming IT hub and another as home to sizeable poor communities. Here, an estimated 1.4 million people live in cramped conditions, often with no running water, one toilet for hundreds of people and very limited basic services, such as health care.
When Dr. Philcy, a community dentist with the Bangalore Baptist Hospital, and his team started working with people living in these often-neglected communities, he quickly realised that they would mostly only see a dentist in an emergency. “They would come to us when they had pain and the infection was all over the place and it was often too late,” he says.
“I felt that we had to educate them [about dental health],” he recalls.
So that’s when Dr. Philcy accepted an Australia Awards Endeavour scholarship to study a Masters in Dental Public and Primary Health at the University of Western Australia.
“What I realised in Australia is that health is not an individual event,” he says. “There are so many factors – social, economic, political, even religious factors – which actually influences one’s health. So, to improve a person’s health we have to deal with all these issues,” he says.
Having returned to India, Dr. Philcy has used what he learned in Australia to modify the dental outreach programme of the Bangalore Baptist Hospital to be more holistic. “Our impact is more far reaching now, than it was before,” he says.
He and his team now run dental health awareness sessions for children in schools. They set-up mobile clinics in marginalized communities and take the time to discuss and help resolve wider issues, such as poor water quality, impacting on peoples’ dental health. They have also set-up more accessible, permanent clinics in some of the larger poor communities in Bangalore. These first-of-a-kind clinics provide a warm atmosphere, encouraging people who are often shunned by other institutions to visit for more regular check-ups.
“People tell us that they come to our clinics because they feel welcome and that’s very touching for us,” Dr. Phlicy says.
One such lady is 35-year old Manon Mani. She had never felt comfortable going to dental practices until the Bangalore Baptist Hospital set-up a small clinic near her home. Over the years, she had lost most of her teeth and Dr. Philcy’s team created a new set of dentures for her. With her son’s secondary school graduation coming up she can now step out confidently.
“It’s always a joy when somebody says wow, I’m very happy with your treatment … those are golden moments in your life,” says Dr. Phlicy.
“My mission is to reach out to more regions,” he says.
“We are now covering around 20 to 30 regions, hopefully within the next two years we can cover 100 with more health awareness programs and more dental teams.”