In an effort to bring health education and supplies to the children Guatemala, students from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine partnered with the U.S. International Health Alliance last March in a medical mission. Knowing the importance of preventing early childhood caries and dental decay among adolescents, they focused their efforts on education.
The outreach trip was made possible by the team which included a physician, two dental students,Jessica Pilloni and Liana Shahinian, two health promoters and a dental assistant. They traveled throughout southeastern Petén, Guatemala where many communities had little-to-no access to medical or dental care. A trip to the nearest hospital would take a four-to-six hour bus ride, so it did not take long for the team to realize that the need was great.
Over the course of the week, approximately 1,000 children were given toothbrushes, oral health instructions and fluoride treatments. Early childhood caries and rampant decay were seen in every community visited. The local diet is high in simple carbohydrates, which made it clear that diet plays a significant role in the oral health. Whether clean water access is arduous or not, sugary drinks and sticky foods maintained prevalent. Each child was screened for gross dental decay and suggested referrals to the nearest dental clinic, when necessary.
Since the focus was on education, each child who received a toothbrush was given a lesson in proper debridement and an interactive lesson on how diet affects their teeth. The team also taught classes on oral hygiene to a group of health promoters in the area to ensure that fluoride treatments and dental education would continue after they departed. As the team left the communities, many locals expressed how grateful they were for our care and concern.
This outreach trip is hopefully the first of many in the Petén region to provide ongoing dental education and care. As described by one student, “I truly had an amazing experience in Petén. It was life changing, and I am looking forward to going back.”
Thank you to our main donor Henry Schein Cares Foundation for its support!