New Zealand Army Maj. Phillip Worthington examines a student at the Tasi Tolu Primary School in Dili, Timor-Leste, during a Pacific Partnership dental engagement June 16. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Derek Stroop)

DILI, Timor-Leste - In an effort to promote strong relations and enhance community wellness, members of the multinational dental team currently supporting Pacific Partnership (PP14) 2014, worked tirelessly with the local communities of Kupang, Indonesia, and Dili, Timor-Leste.

In its ninth iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The mission began in Kupang, May 26 - June 9 before it continued on to Dili, June 12. The mission is expected to last two weeks.

According to New Zealand Defence Force Maj. Phillip Worthington, head of the dental team in Kupang and Dili, the team's goal was to improve host nation skillsets through hands-on training as well as subject matter information exchanges, while working with local schools and dentists conducting screenings and oral surgeries to support the local community.

"It took a lot of work to get these training engagements and school screenings set up," said Worthington. "We had an advance team arrive in both locations before we did and they worked with the ministries of health and with the school directors to set up dates and locations for us to begin our work."

The team was made up of service members from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, Timor-Leste and the United States, each bringing a different and critical skill to the mission.

"Our Singaporean dentist in Kupang was an oral surgeon who managed to teach the local surgeons some good surgical techniques which they hadn't encountered before," he said. "We also had a U.S. Army dentist and three dental hygienists who were good with minor surgeries and being hands-on mentors for the locals. When we would visit the schools, the kids loved them and they were great at pushing the oral hygiene message."

Starting early in the day, the team would split into two parts. One team would visit the schools to conduct screenings, pass out hygiene products and speak to students about the importance of oral hygiene while the second team would see the patients who needed extra care. According to Worthington, on average the team would screen about 500 students and each dentist would care for eight to ten patients each day.

"The most we screened in one day was about 1,600 of about 2,200 students," said Worthington. "We had a second screening team out there with us and we had our routine down so we were able to conduct a smoother operation."

The dental team immediately saw the rewards of their efforts. Students were happy to see them and the parents and teachers personally thanked them for the work they had done. Worthington was very pleased with the mission.

"In a heartbeat, I would come away again on Pacific Partnership," he said. "I've enjoyed the camaraderie and the company by meeting and mixing with some of our counterparts and forming strong friendships with the locals and our partner nations as well."

This year, Pacific Partnership features simultaneous seaborne and airborne phases with the airborne phase focused on the nations of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Medical and engineering personnel will conduct numerous medical, dental and veterinary engagements, along with engineering civil action projects and community relations events. The seaborne phase is a Japanese-led mission and is scheduled to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.