Ren Ci Nursing Home @ Bukit Batok Street 52 started operations since January 2015. Although the nursing home is relatively spacious with modern amenities, most of the elderly residents are bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound, and dental hygiene poses a challenge for the Nursing Home. As the costs of dental services in Singapore are relatively expensive and there are not many VWOs providing such services, the Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore Branch) signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding with Ren Ci to provide free dental services for the Nursing Home, effective from 23rd April 2016.
After the agreement was signed, groups of dental care professionals from TIMA began their first oral screening for about 157 of the nursing home residents. The oral screening is to facilitate preparations by the dental team to perform free monthly dental services according to individual resident’s state of oral hygiene. The free dental service is estimated to benefit about 250 nursing home residents.
Before commencing the oral screening, veteran TIMA dentist Dr Eugene Tang Kok Weng briefed the dental care professionals, five NUS Dentistry students and dentistry volunteers on the dos and don’ts of interacting with patients.
“Different from your usual medical services, the patients are bed-ridden,” he emphasized.
Volunteer Dentists Go in to Serve Immobile Patients
NUS fourth-year Dentistry student Chen Jian En had volunteered with Tzu Chi Free Clinic before, but this was his maiden experience with a bed-ridden patient. He was highly meticulous in performing the oral screening and gently asked the elderly patient, “Do you have dentures? Ah!” before proceeding to inspect the patient’s gum health.
“In the Tzu Chi Free Clinic, most patients are highly mobile and are able to communicate, but in Ren Ci Nursing Home, the elderly residents are either immobile or unable to communicate with the volunteers. In the process of the oral screenings, some volunteers were bitten by their patients. It felt good to witness the selfless sacrifices made by numerous volunteers during the oral screening,” said Chen Jian En, who took the initiative to assist his schoolmates and dentists and took advantage of this invaluable learning experience outside of the classroom.
There was a toothless female resident, but the dentist still carefully inspected her gums for any infections. The resident laughed happily when the dentist complimented her that she still looked very pretty without any teeth.
After inspection, Dr Tang said, “Some residents have only the roots of their teeth and there are visible signs of gum infections. In such situations, the infection will only get worse. So the only solution is to extract their decayed teeth.”
Dr Tang discovered a resident with three decayed teeth that needed urgent extraction. He immediately took the patient’s blood pressure, injected local anesthetic and let the patient bite on cotton swabs to prevent accidental swallowing of the extracted teeth. After all the necessary preparations were done, the nursing aide held the patient’s hand and offered comforting words while Dr Tang extracted the three decayed teeth.
As a seasoned volunteer dentist, Dr Tang hopes that such volunteer dental services would provide more opportunities for young dentists to participate on different weekends, thereby strengthening the flexibility of volunteer mobilisation. The dental service could operate on alternate Saturdays and Sundays.
“Since the nursing home patients can’t come out, we as volunteers will go in. By bringing along their mobile dental equipment and paying attention to the minute details, such as adjusting the incline of the patients’ beds to minimize the risk of accidental swallowing of extracted teeth and so on,” explained Dr Tang.
Medical Aides’ Selfless Service
Other than the dentists, there were many Tzu Chi volunteers who served as medical aides. For example, although volunteer Yan Shao Ji has no medical experience, he helped to record every patient’s name, sex, bed number, date of birth and other key particulars, so that the medical professionals could focus on treating patients.
“By noting these patient records, the volunteer medical aides alleviate the medical practitioners of administrative hassles so they can focus on what they do best, to treat the patients,” commented Shao Ji. He added that in order to facilitate the dentist’s diagnosis, he first communicated with each patient according to his/her preferred language; be it Mandarin, Malay, English, Cantonese or Teochew, he could communicate in these languages.
During the dental service, medical aides serve as back-ups for the dentists and fill the gaps to better serve the nursing home residents. Volunteer leader Lai Zhu Fan shared: “The role of the volunteer aide is to accompany and comfort the patient. What’s key in this role is love and patience, the more we volunteer the more tender our hearts become.”
TIMA Singapore first partnered with Ren Ci’s Chronic Sick Unit at Buangkok Green back in 2014, to provide free dental care services to their chronically sick patients until the end of 2014. The following year, the partnership was extended to Ren Ci Nursing Home at Irrawaddy Road (Moulmein), and has benefitted about 300 patients.
Tzu Chi’s past two years of free dental services have received the recognition of the Ren Ci Hospital management and paved the way for the two-year partnership between Tzu Chi and Ren Ci, to extend the dental services to the nursing homes under Ren Ci.
Ren Ci’s Group Nursing Director, Sim Teck Meh, expressed Ren Ci’s gratitude to Tzu Chi in these heartfelt words: “Ren Ci is very thankful for the partnership with Tzu Chi. Since 2014, Tzu Chi has been providing our patients with free dental services, such as check-ups, teeth extractions and dentures. Your organisation’s selfless and benevolent actions have really touched us. We offer our heartfelt gratitude and hope that our partnership will benefit more people.”
Tzu Chi Singapore’s CEO, Low Swee She shared after the signing of the Memorandum: “We are really grateful for the opportunities Ren Ci gave us and thankful for all the volunteers and dentists. We hope that our partnership will help to alleviate the sufferings of the patients.”