Oral Health Education in Guatemala

March 22 to 27, 2015, two dental students partnered with the non-profit organization U.S. International Health Alliance to bring oral health education and toothbrushes to children in Guatemala. As dental students from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, we know the importance of education in preventing early childhood caries and dental decay amongst adolescents and focused our efforts on education and prevention. There were many people involved in the organization of this dental outreach trip, including a physician, two dental students, two health promoters, and a dental assistant. We traveled throughout southeastern Petén, Guatemala. Many of the communities there have little to no access to medical or dental care. A trip to the nearest hospital would be both costly and timely, requiring a four to six hour bus ride. It did not take long to realize that the need in this region is great and the accessibility to care is minimal. DSC01377 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. As the local diet is high in simple carbohydrates, it was clear that diet plays a significant role in the oral health of the people. Whether clean water access is arduous or not, sugary drinks and sticky foods are prevalent. We screened each child for gross dental decay and suggested referrals to the nearest dental clinic, when necessary. Our main focus was education. Each child that received a toothbrush was given a lesson in proper debridement and an interactive lesson on how diet affects their teeth. We also taught a class on oral hygiene instruction to a group of health promoters in the area to ensure that the fluoride treatments and dental education would continue after our departure. As we left the communities, many of the people expressed how grateful they were for our care and concern. While we accomplished many things during our visit, probably the most important was letting the people in the rural communities know that we care about their dental health. HSphoto 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 Iam looking forward to going back.” HS2photo