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My family and I had the opportunity to spend a week in El Salvador visiting my sister-in-law and her family. We did some touristy things like swim at the beach and tour pre-Columbian ruins. We also did a service project.

My nephew is doing his Eagle Scout project. He is building an outhouse for a family that has no running water and no electricity. My sons helped to dig a hole for the outhouse.

humanitarian dentistry

While they were working, I checked the teeth of all the kids (nine of them!). They told me that they had never owned or used a toothbrush before. Surprisingly, there was little tooth decay. They may not have had much sugar in the diet. The mother and father had significant gum disease, so the family probably has the bacteria that favors gum disease over tooth decay. I did see some decay in baby teeth. Because this wasn’t causing a toothache, I let it go, as these baby teeth would fall out soon.

I gave each child a toothbrush and showed them how to use it. I told them to brush their teeth twice a day every day.

humanitarian dentistry

humanitarian dentistry

The older daughter (17 years old) said she’d had a toothache for two months that hurt when she ate. She had three badly decayed teeth. I numbed her mouth with anesthetic and extracted the three teeth. She had never seen a dentist before and may never see a dentist again. I could tell that she was nervous, but relaxed once the first tooth was out and she knew what to expect. Later they asked when the dentist would come back, as the neighbors heard about her experience and wanted treatment too.

humanitarian dentistry
We improvised a dental chair on a bamboo bench with a backpack for a headrest.

Doing dentistry in the jungle with stray dogs and chickens running around was amazing. The family was so gracious and grateful. Their children gave us hugs when we arrived and before we left.

There are many organizations that provide ongoing dental care to remote areas like this. I’m already looking forward to being involved again soon.

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