In January 2014, hundreds of people living in the remote municipality of Poptun, Guatemala, received critically needed oral and dental care from a team of Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) students and alums working as volunteers for the non-profit organization LIGA (“league”) International Flying Doctors of Mercy. The team included DMD 14 students Ella Botchevar, Therese Comeau, Wyatt Traina, and David Ziegler; Christina Donnelly DMD 13; Nathaniel “Boone” Caldon DMD 07; and team leader Kevin Acone MET 02, DMD 07.
The volunteers delivered excellent care despite many challenges in the Poptun clinic. The line of patients stretched far outside the door, most of them with needs too numerous to address in a single visit. The equipment was unpredictable and water pressure low. Even the patients’ anatomy tendered a learning curve—the local population has denser bone and unfamiliar jaw shapes compared to the populations they are accustomed to treating in the United States.
Yet the students and alums learned to work without water, at faster speeds than ever, learned to identify the most critical needs to address and which to let go, and adjusted their technique to the denser bone and tooth locations. The positive result of overcoming these obstacles was that the students exponentially increased their clinical confidence and skills.
Botchevar said the experience “provided wonderful clinical hands-on training for patients in dire need and with limited access.” Traina concurred: “It was a great opportunity to tend to a huge need and gain lots of experience.” Ziegler described the trip as an “amazing experience.”
Comeau commented that “it’s a great opportunity to experience how much need is out there.” She added that it was also a chance to see a different side of dental needs than she had seen at GSDM.
Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter said, “I am proud to see our students and alums advancing the School’s mission to provide community service to improve the overall health of the global population.” He continued, “Thank you to the volunteers for your service as exemplary ambassadors for the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.”