“It blew me away.” That’s how Fransheska Ovalles DMD 13 sums up her mission to Guatemala with Dentistry for All in February 2013.
Dentistry for All is a nonprofit led by Executive Director and GSDM alum Brad Krusky DMD 93. The organization’s vision is to help people in impoverished regions of the world maintain a better quality of life through better dental health. The organization serves the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. This particular trip took Ovalles to Comitancillo (aka Comi) and a new site in La Choleña, a town near Guatemala City.
A Whole New World
Ovalles says that, being from a third-world country herself, some aspects of Comi such as the lack of water were no surprise to her. She was, however, surprised by how the residents stuck to their traditions.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she says. “They dress in traditional clothing, farm everything, and speak their own dialect. Someone would translate from their dialect to Spanish so I could translate from Spanish to English for the dental team.” As a courtesy, the team followed the local tradition of covering their knees and shoulders.
A pleasant surprise was that several patients with special needs came in for treatment, a rare occurrence for Dentistry for All that Ovalles described as the highlight of the trip. This was her first experience treating patients with special needs.
She spent three hours working with a team of five people to help one special little girl. “We were just all in it together and basically restored her whole mouth,” Ovalles said.
This was Ovalles’ first significant chance to treat so many children, and she loved it. Trip director Dr. Shane Fisher thought she was so gifted that he is trying to convince her to change her present post-graduate plans and apply to a program in advanced specialty education in pediatric dentistry.
A Unique Anatomy
Dentistry in Comi is among the most challenging you will find. Many residents there have a condition called osteopetrosis. Literally translating as “stone bone,” it is an inherited disorder that causes the bones to harden and become denser.
“They have a completely different anatomy,” Ovalles said. “Their bone is like nothing we’ve ever seen in the US so extractions there are quite different.”
As Dr. Fisher told Ovalles, “If you can do extractions in Comi, you can do them anywhere.”
Time for Fun
The trip wasn’t all work all the time. Trip director Dr. Fisher made sure his team took breaks, even giving them nail polish to paint the local girls’ nails, which Ovalles did once.
Ovalles spoke of the team’s camaraderie. At nightly dinners, they played a game called Roses and Thorns. A “rose” might be a story of an incredible patient or a complement to a team member. A “thorn” might be simply, “It was hot today!”
After two weeks in Guatemala, Ovalles said, “I felt like a whole different dentist.” Indeed, that’s a “mission accomplished” for an elective international externship student.