A Sudbury orthodontist recently completed her fourth mission abroad, where she helped treat children with open cleft palates in Peru.
Dr. Inderpreet (Preet) Virdee, who has a local practice called Hometown Orthodontics, started donating her time to international missions in 2014, with a trip to provide dental care to people in Honduras.
Since then, she has also been to Micronesia, Bangladesh and Peru.
Virdee was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and saw the impact poverty can have on people's health firsthand.
When she was eight, her family moved to London, Ont.
“My parents have always given to their community,” she said.
Virdee said she promised her father that once she had the means to do so, she would help those in need to the best of her abilities.
In her case, that meant providing free dental care for people who could not afford it otherwise.
In Peru, she worked with an organization called Medical Missions for Children, where she helped a team of ear, nose and throat surgeons treat children with open cleft palates.
A cleft palate can make breast feeding difficult for babies, and lead to complications later on for children.
To prepare children for surgery to repair their cleft palates, Virdee removed any teeth that might interfere with the procedures.
In some cases, she also removed teeth that had rotted away due to poor dental hygiene.
She also provided retainers for some children, to prevent “leakage” from the mouth to the nose, that often happens with a cleft palate.
“I think dentistry is overlooked as far as mission-based services are concerned,” Virdee said.
Interestingly, thanks to her work abroad, Virdee has also noticed gaps in services closer to home. If a child needs surgery for a cleft palate in Sudbury, they need to travel to Montreal or Toronto.
“It's perplexing for me that we can't get this stuff done up north,” Virdee said. “Sudbury would be an amazing centre where you could get (patients) to come here from Sault Ste. Marie or Sioux Lookout. Instead patients have to go to Toronto to get this done.”
Cleft palate is more common in the Aboriginal population, Virdee said, which makes the need treatment in the north even greater.