Friday, March 14, 2008

Dental Clinics Become an Integral Part of FTC's Teams

This year FTC was thrilled to add dentists and dental assistants to their team efforts. After the first day, it was evident that most had never seen a toothbrush or a dentist and consequently, they lived with chronic tooth pain and gum infections. Below are the reflections of Dr. Jack Cottrell,from Port Perry, ON

Scores of people were already clustered and waiting in the courtyard adjacent to the primitive cinderblock schoolhouse in Saxsuy, Guatemala as we unloaded dental equipment, food, clothing, toys and pharmacy from the supply trucks.

We had been briefed by FTC staff that most of these people are plagued by combinations of parasites, worms, dysentery or lice, a result of the lack of clean water and poor living conditions. They have never had a toothbrush, let alone been seen by a dentist. Oral hygiene is non-existent. Their woefully inadequate diets are many times filled with chips and cola. It is not uncommon for the children to be put to bed, even up the age of five, with a baby bottle laden with a white drink that they call "honey", which is a sweet slurry produced when sugar cane is boiled, reduced and cooled.

As the newest members to this seasoned FTC medical team, my wife, Michelle and I were excited and hopeful that our years of experience, those of Dr. Mimi, a dentist helping us from El Salvador, and our very talented translator Marta would be adequate to meet the needs of the indigenous people in this rural area of Guatemala.

Our excitement quickly turns to shock as we see patient after patient presenting with end stage oral disease – mouths ravaged with periodontal disease and riddled with dental caries.

Late in the afternoon, just before we closed the clinic a precious diminutive four year old named Ingrid, accompanied by her mother, timidly approached the door after hours of waiting in the never-ending line which had enveloped our clinic all day long.

The mother hoisted Ingrid into our chair and she spoke softly in a dialect that neither we nor our competent translator could decipher. However, her animated gestures told the story as she pointed to virtually every tooth in this young child's mouth. The bright operatory light revealed a dentition totally decimated by dental caries. Sadly, many of these rotten stumps were pristine newly erupted teeth less than one year ago. Suddenly, our elaborate dental equipment and years of experience seemed very inadequate as not even one of this child's teeth could be salvaged. Her expressionless fixed gaze did not change as we presented her with a coveted toy from our toy chest to comfort her. This behavior was reflective of a child who was febrile and dehydrated. A little girl who had cried herself to sleep night after night from the searing pain caused by rotting teeth and pus filled abscesses that punctuated her gums.

We proceeded to remove the most painful teeth, prescribe antibiotics, and to call the president of FTC Canada, Ken Dick, to the dental clinic to ask for special consideration to be given to this child so she may be sent to a local hospital to complete her treatment. Ken agreed that this little girl needed more extensive help and thankfully those arrangements are being made.

That evening, as we made our way back to the hotel, Michelle and I reflected on the need to establish a stronger preventive dental program for these people that have never been told that sugar and cola are bad for their teeth – perhaps if they received some education in this area, if we introduced a fluoride rinse program and improved the oral home care of these people, we would see a decline in dental caries and the teeth of these children could be saved.

A few days later as we boarded a plane headed back to Canada, we were comforted by the fact that during five days of dental clinics we treated more than 430 people – bringing friendship and hope to them in the process through the amazing work of FTC Canada.

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