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Volunteering in Guatemala, AO Style

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US Ambassador Inaugurates Clinic in Guatemala Supported by the Alpha Omega Foundation

On May 17, 2010, the organization Dentistry For All opened a permanent clinic in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in a village named Comitancillo. This clinic has been in the works for many years, and is the only access to care for most of the 60,000 people of this area. With no access to regular dental care, Dentistry For All has been returning to this town for more than 15 years on an annual mission trip.

However, only providing care for 2 weeks out of the year always leaves many individuals without care the rest of the year.

altIn an effort to begin preventive and oral health education, Dentistry for All began a campaign a year ago to raise the funds necessary to increase services to these compassionate and gracious people. With almost $60,000 collected by the Alpha Omega US Foundation GOHI branch, Dentistry For All has finally opened a facility to address the long-term needs of this community. This accomplishment has truly been an international effort including many dental suppliers, volunteers, and other foundations, including the Alpha Omega Foundation of Canada. The support of Alpha Omega in extending the reaches of tzedakah to some of the most impoverished areas of the world is greatly appreciated.

To inaugurate the Dentistry For All Dental clinic in Comitancillo, the US Ambassador Stephen McFarland came to congratulate the organization and all the supporters that made this possible. He extended his appreciation on behalf of the US government for all the services and care that groups like this perform in making the world a healthier place one smile at a time.

If you would be interested in supporting causes like this or becoming a volunteer in dental missions of this nature, please contact Shane Fisher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Rachel Davis wrote the following letter after her most recent trip to Comitancillo:

This past February, I embarked on my third mission trip to Guatemala to volunteer my dental skills to the people of Comitancillo (Comi) with the Canadian-based Dentistry For All (Dentistryforall.org). I got involved with Dentistry For All through my Alpha Omega connections and have gone each year with my boyfriend Richard Halpern, another Alpha Omegan. We both enjoy participating in this project and giving back to those less fortunate in the form of dentistry.

Although this was my third mission, it was my second time visiting Comi, and I was excited to return to the impoverished town where most of the families struggle to survive on only a few dollars a day. I was on the second of 5 weeks to make the trek down south to Central America. Richard was able to give 2 weeks of volunteering and was already in Comi for the first week. Also with him were Alpha Omegans and the trip leaders Brad Krusky, a pediatric dentist from Calgary, Alberta, and Shane Fisher, a pedodontist from Chicago, IL. There were two other Alpha Omegans volunteering for weeks 1 and 2—Josh Souweine, a general dentist from Rochester, NY, and Alan Ross, an oral surgeon from Regina, Saskatchewan. During the third week, Mark Berkman, an orthodontist from Walled Lake, MI, arrived in Guatemala to be an assistant with the general dentistry needs. Each year we see the increase of Alpha Omegans that want to get involved and volunteer their services and time to the people of Guatemala with arrangements through Dentistry For All.

altShane was able to take a few months off of work and became integrated in the everyday life of Guatemala. He took many courses in Spanish and was designated as one of our translators. His stay in Guatemala was twofold; he also helped erect a permanent clinic in Comi. Not only were Shane and Brad performing the dental procedures like everyone else during their volunteering weeks, but they were also negotiating land plots and buildings and arranging for our future clinic space.

My first trip to Comi was tough for me. I was able to help many Guatemalans with cleanings, fillings, and extractions, but when I hit my first pulp on an anterior tooth because of large decay and did not have the proper endodontic supplies and materials to perform a simple root canal, let alone a pulpotomy, I knew something had to be done. It is not a good feeling to extract a permanent front tooth from anyone under 20 years of age. That moment was a turning point for me: Why shouldn’t these people have access to root canal therapy to save a front tooth? I am a general dentist, not an endodontist, but I do enjoy doing root canals, and I’m fairly quick with 1- or 2-canal anterior teeth if I have my rotary instruments and endodontic supplies. After my first mission trip, I contacted my Tulsa Dentsply representative and made him aware of my dilemma. Through my representative and his supervisors, I was able to obtain the necessary equipment the following year to perform root canals to maintain anterior teeth.

This past year, Tulsa Dentsply donated three endodontic motors and even more root canal supplies. I have since made an endodontic tub for all the endodontic supplies so that any volunteer dentist that feels comfortable performing a root canal on the trip can help a patient maintain their teeth.

The vision for Dentistry For All over the next few years is to acquire more Alpha Omegans (both alumni and students) and volunteers to staff a year-round dental clinic in Comi and to establish a working relationship with the citizens throughout Guatemala. One thing is for sure: once you have been to Guatemala and have experienced the culture and graciousness of the community, you will be become a regular on the Dentistry For All team—and this is a healthy addiction.

© 2010 The Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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