As fourth year dental students, we completed our clinical outreach requirements at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway during the fall of 2014 through an international exchange program. We treated patients in the clinic, made many wonderful friendships and traveled the beautiful country of Norway. The combination of clinical practice, learning and working in an international health care setting led us to one of the most rewarding experiences in dental school.
We learned so many unexpected lessons along the way.
Despite the fact that dental care is not a provided benefit for most Norwegian adult citizens and the water is not fluoridated, Norwegian citizens have similar caries rates to the United States. The shift in improved oral health trends can be attributed to increased preventative dental care and community health infrastructure. Norwegians take the right to good health seriously. The country’s philosophy is that every child has the right to a clean, healthy mouth. This is enforced by mandating children receive regular dental care. The strength of the characters Karius and Baktus as a national symbol of oral health helps dentists, teachers and parents instill and encourage good habits. To better understand the environmental effects on children’s health and development, Norwegian researchers have created the world’s largest Tooth Bank, with more than 100,000 children participating.
We began our program by completing didactic, pre-clinic and clinical lectures demonstrating our psychomotor skills and learning about the differences in dentistry, techniques and treatment approaches between the United States and Norway. Amalgam has been banned in Scandinavia due to environmental concerns so all operative fillings are done in composite resin. Norwegians have seen great success with extensive composite restorations, which has led to the belief that “you can always do a crown later.” This was a concept that was repeatedly discussed and reinforced before we started in their clinic.
Our clinical practice in Bergen was filled with kind patients and a conservative philosophy of tooth preservation. At UiB, our weekly rotations included oral surgery, pedodontics, gerodontology and comprehensive care clinic (where we did operative, endodontics and prosthodontics). Our experience in oral surgery both at the school clinic and in the hospital setting allowed us to observe and assist on many different surgeries including: tooth autotransplantation, LeFort II surgery, discectomy, apicoectomy, hemisection, impacted 3rd molar extraction, orthodontic fenestrations and implant surgeries.
In the TMD clinic, we participated in a lot of oral-facial pain management through various stages of treatment and oral appliance therapy. One clinical highlight was learning to use endodontic microscopes to complete molar endodontic treatments with the WaveOne system. With the help of the clinical faculty, we learned to use new materials and techniques to complete a variety of procedures familiar to all dental students thereby enhancing our growing knowledge of dentistry.
Between all of the rotations and patient appointments, we found time to learn about Norwegian culture. One of the best phrases we heard was “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” We traveled all over Norway from the Arctic Circle to the south, east to the highest mountains, and west through fjords via buses, cars, ferries, airplanes, trains and on foot. We saw some of the most spectacular and scenic places in the entire world.
Now home in Minnesota, we find ourselves occasionally smirking at an accent because we think ‘that sounds so Norwegian’ and the same thing happened in Norway, when we would think ‘wow, sounds like we are at home.’ It has been fun to recognize the blend of the Scandinavian culture in Minnesota and to better understand our own ancestry as a result of our travels.
We strongly recommend that students take advantage of any opportunity to participate in dentistry in a novel setting as a way to expand your perspective and potentially practice dentistry in another country. The opportunity to explore various techniques and materials, and to improve patient communication skills, helped us to grow as health practitioners. Most importantly, we became more independent. For us, participating in this program changed our lives and our careers. We are so grateful for the incredible experience. Ha de bra (which means: have a good one)!
~Dr. Megan Kack, Minnesota ’15 and Dr. Brianna Berg, Minnesota ’15
The summer issue of Mouth is all about dentistry abroad. Click here to read more stories about dentistry in other countries around the world. Article topics include: oral hygiene around the globe, cultural awareness, a global perspective on amalgam and water fluoridation, the long-term impacts of outreach trips and more.