Teaching the Importance of Oral Health in Honduras


If given a choice, most people would choose not to see the dentist. That’s the problem students and staff encountered on their mission to Buena Vista, Honduras. Upon arriving at the school where Global Brigades had set up a pharmacy and medical and dental clinic, residents of the small coffee-growing community checked off a form to see only the physician or the physician and the dentist as well. Most people did not check the “dentist” box.

“They thought seeing the dentist automatically meant extractions,” says Jung Ahn DMD 13, who volunteered. “So they were really afraid at first.”

Clinical Instructor Gladys Carrasco, the first Spanish-speaking dentist to join the mission, realized that patients were only asking to see the dentist if they had toothaches. She took on the task of teaching the local population, in their native language, how the dentist can help with everyday oral health care.

“We need to educate the people about why they need to see the dentist,” she says. “There are a lot of other diseases we can find out just by looking at their mouths.”

The number of dental appointments increased dramatically, from 10 people the first day to 40 the second and even more on the third and final day.

Anna Lechowicz DMD 13 noted that despite the lack of oral health education, some people’s teeth were even better than you sometimes find in Boston.

“They’re cut off. If you want to go down the hill it would take three or four hours to walk,” she says. “I don’t think they had access to processed foods. I don’t think they could afford coca cola.” Whether by choice or by chance, it’s a small win for the residents of Buena Vista and dental health providers treating them.

Also joining the team were Christina Woo DMD 13 and Boston-area dentist Dr. Chris Choi.

Global Brigades is a unique externship experience. First, the group pairs dental and medical students (called “professionals”) with undergraduate students working toward those professions. GSDM students not only had the chance to serve the people of Buena Vista, but they also served as mentors for pre-dental students on the trip. Pre-dental students helped out as dental assistants.

Second, Global Brigades asks volunteers to spend a portion of their mission working outside of their field of expertise as well. This can include any of the areas Global Brigades works in: architecture, business, dental, environmental, human rights, medical, microfinance, public health, or water. On their last day in Honduras, GSDM volunteers helped build a community center that will be a permanent site for one physician and one dentist in Buena Vista.

Global Brigades follows the theory of “holistic development.” According to the group’s website, this is “a system of collectively implementing health, economic, and education initiatives to strategically meet a community’s development goals.”

“We at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine are so proud of Jung Ahn, Anna Lechowicz, Christina Woo, and Drs. Carrasco and Choi,” said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter, “not only for their commitment to teaching the importance of regular oral health care but also for mentoring the next generation of dental students on this extraordinary mission.”

Photos from the externship are available on Facebook and Flickr.