Hubert Burda Media

The Season for Giving: Chng Chai Kiat (4of4)

Concluding this series, the senior consultant of orthodontics shares why he wants to give children a reason to smile.

Gives Kids Something to Smile About

Orthodontic treatment is considered a luxury in developing countries. But it’s taken on a deeper meaning for Dr Chng Chai Kiat, who heads KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s dental service: He’s part of an interdisciplinary team who repairs lips and palates of children born with a cleft and treats their associated challenges, which include dental and orthodontic problems, speech difficulties and hearing loss.

He also volunteers on overseas medical mission trips with Smile Asia (formerly Operation Smile). The global alliance of charities provides free surgeries for cleft children in countries such as Myanmar and Uzbekistan; and trains locals to continue the work after they leave. Chng also brought to fruition and manages Mount Alvernia Outreach Dental Clinic at social service hub Agape Village. Here, KK dental officers treat underprivileged patients who pay a heavily subsidised fee.

I was looking forward to going into private practice when…Dr Vincent Yeow sat me down and said: “You are young, you should consider giving back to society and do public service instead. Come to KK for five years to do what you really enjoy. And if you still want to go into private practice after that, you would have contributed to public service.” (Yeow is the plastic surgeon who roped Chng into coordinating the dental aspect of Operation Smile in 2009.)

With braces…you are giving a person a nice smile and some confidence. But how much does it change his life? It’s very different when you do same thing for a cleft patient. You are restoring his normal form and function, and helping to make his smile like everybody else’s. To me, that is a lot more fulfilling.

I want to do things…that have a direct impact on an individual. On a holiday in Bhutan, my friends and I learnt that our guide’s daughter was blind. We decided to fly them to Singapore and pay for her treatment, and our doctor friends waived certain charges. The operation restored only 10 percent of her sight, but what came out of it was a blessing. Checks revealed that she couldn’t hear and wasn’t getting simulation, so her cognitive and mental development was slow. After her ears were cleared, she started interacting and mimicking sounds.