19 WING COMOX – From now on, whenever she hears someone complain about a busy day, dental technician Master Cpl. Wanda Gulliford will be biting her lip. Relax, it’s not a new dental procedure. It’s just that, fresh from a six-week humanitarian deployment to the Caribbean and Central and South America, Gulliford has a new perspective on working flat-out. “Typically here at 19 Wing we see around ten patients per dentist per day,” says Gulliford of 1 Dental Unit Detachment at 19 Wing. “In our clinics in Suriname or Guyana, we were seeing anywhere from 30-35 daily. Even then, they were lined up outside for hours.” Gulliford was one of 25 Canadian Forces health services members – including dentists and assistants, nurses, physiotherapists, and doctors – to sail aboard a pair of United States Navy hospital ships on one of three rotations between July and October. With their U.S. counterparts, they provided free medical, dental and other humanitarian-assistance programs to underserved areas in a wide variety of countries. Gulliford’s vessel, the giant hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort, sailed the Atlantic, while the U.S.S. Pelileu sailed the South Pacific.
The humanitarian operation was something Gulliford had long wanted to do, even before she joined the Forces five and a half years ago. She’d never been able to overcome the logistics hurdles before, so she jumped at the chance to do it in uniform. It proved an eye-opener.
“Our patients had no preventative care at all, they had no oral health education,” she recalls. “We saw everything, serious gum disease, calculus so thick it was probably all that was holding some people’s teeth in place.
“We couldn’t treat it all, of course,” she adds. “We chose one thing to focus on, something really important to the person. Afterwards, they were so grateful, they were hugging everybody. Next day they’d be back in line just to bring us a gift or something from their garden to say thanks.”
Not all the care she provided was of the dental variety. She says she’ll never forget treating children from six different orphanages in Suriname. “If I could have I would have slipped a few children in my kit bag to bring home,” she laughs. “They were so cute. Some didn’t need dental care at all, just a little love and compassion.”
Back in time for a rainy winter on Vancouver Island, Gulliford finds herself missing days of constant sun and 35 degree weather. But having fulfilled a long-time dream, she says she’s grateful to be in the Canadian Forces, where the next adventure is always just around the corner.
“You have to jump at it,” she says of opportunities like these in the CF. “Nothing else can give you the same satisfaction, ever.”
Source: Canadian Forces (DND/CF)
For further information about Canadian Forces (DND/CF), click here