February 26, 2018

A Dental Mission to Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the poorest Latin American countries. Many people native to Guatemala do not have an affordable clean water supply and hence are unable to practice proper hygiene.  Ironically, it is less expensive to purchase soda and juice than water.  Poor oral hygiene practices coupled with little access to dental care creates a perfect storm for uncontrolled dental caries.

In July 2017, ICD Fellow Dr. Bradley C. Louie joined Dr. Mike O'Brien, Dr. Neil Katsura, Dr. Lisa Dobak, Dr. Paul Kasrovi, and Dr. Elizabeth Ng to serve Guatemalan children, family members, and teachers with a local non-profit Mayan Families. The one-week clinic in Panajachel, Guatemala had access to 6 portable dental units.  Most of the patients lived outside the larger cities and spoke a dialect of Mayan. It was, therefore, necessary to have a Mayan translator who understood Spanish to help translate between English, Spanish, and Mayan. 

We found the Mayan people to be modest and very thankful for the care we could provide.  Over the course of a week, 176 patients were treated.  Extractions, direct restorations, fluoride varnish, and cleanings were provided.  Due to the severity of rampant caries, silver diamine fluoride (SDF) applications in conjunction with the SMART technique (SDF Modified Atraumatic Restorative Technique) were utilized on asymptomatic carious lesions. Several patients from the previous year who had SDF treatment were examined and the results evaluated. Many carious lesions on young, uncooperative children were arrested and asymptomatic. There were many pediatric patients whose acute, active caries was controlled and therefore could avoid extractions.   

In one case an 18-year-old girl's central incisor was abscessed due to chronic decay.  With the aid of a Nomad x-ray and laptop, the tooth was saved with root canal therapy and composite. She was out of pain and immensely grateful.  In addition to dental treatment, volunteers also gave oral hygiene instruction, toothbrush demonstrations, and dietary advice.  Many of the families did not own a toothbrush or have previous dental care.  Our dental services were provided pro bono with the help of the Mayan Families Organization which provided the facility to store the portable equipment, translators and transportation for the patients, doctors, and staff.  

Working long days in hot and humid conditions helping the Mayan people was very rewarding.  Sharing our passion for helping those in need is an invaluable message to give to our profession. The doctors give thanks to the following for their support: Patterson Dental, Henry Schein Dental, and the UCSF Pediatric Dentistry Global Outreach Program.

Main Image: Dr. Bradley Louie and his son Ryan Louie performing a dental work in Guatemala.

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