For three weeks in a row each year the children of Teacapan—a small fishing village in Mexico—receive dental care from Project Stretch volunteers. The other 49 weeks of the year dental care is largely unavailable to them. GSDM volunteers, under the leadership of Assistant Director of Extramural Programs Kathy Held, have participated in a week-long portion of this trip for several years running.
Repeat volunteers, such as Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Frank Schiano say that you can see a difference between the oral health of the children that visit the clinic each year and those who don’t always make it. Positive improvements are visible in those that are diligent about their yearly visits.
This year volunteers decided that the visits weren’t all they were going to do to help the children of Teacapan. They wanted to introduce an educational component to teach and empower the children to take better care of their teeth. So Liz Montero DMD 11 took what she had learned as a long-time Program Whitecoat volunteer and translated it into a Spanish-language presentation that included her flying into a local classroom, filled with 125 children, while dressed in a very special Captain Cavity Fighter purple cape. During the interactive presentation Montero taught the children about the negative impact that some of their favorite sugary food and drinks can have on their teeth and had a few of them dress up as teeth with germs and bacteria to show the benefits of brushing regularly.
“On the last outreach trip we realized that an educational component would be useful when we saw many of the children waiting to see the dentists,” said Held. “They were brushing their teeth in preparation for their turn in the chair and they were brushing for less than ten seconds.”
After Montero gave the initial presentation she and Held taught the Amigos de Teacapan—a group of mainly retired expatriates who oversee the operation of the clinic—how to give the lesson and they continued teaching the children throughout the week.
Montero, Held, and Schiano, along with other GSDM volunteers Alexandra Antonescu DMD 11 and Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Soncini performed 350 dental exams, placed 900 sealants, and extracted 31 teeth. During this busy week they all say they had a wonderful experience and learned a great deal. Guess the children of Teacapan weren’t the only ones who learned something from this trip!