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BUSDM faculty rough it while providing quality care

BUSDM professor Kathy Held spent a week providing dental care to children in a small Mexican village.  

Kathy Held

No handpieces, no plumbing, no dental chairs. These were just some of the obstacles facing two BU School of Dental Medicine faculty members who spent a week providing dental care to children in Teacapán, a fishing village on the central west coast of Mexico.

Kathy Held, assistant professor and assistant director of extramural programs, and Jennifer Soncini DMD 02, clinical assistant professor, were in Teacapán with Project Stretch, a Natick nonprofit dedicated to improving the oral health of disadvantaged children around the world. They were part of a team of four–Soncini, another dentist, Held (a hygienist), and a dental office manager–who evaluated and treated, as best they could, more than 500 children from March 24 to April 2.

Practicing dentistry with no clinical setup presented challenges. "We just had a regular room with regular chairs; the dentists sat with the children’s heads in their laps and placed sealants and cavity varnishes," says Held. We used hand instruments to remove caries."

This stripped-down form of dentistry has come to be known as adequate restorative treatment, or ART. "Basically you just do what you can," says Held. "I saw a lot of decay. Their diet wasn’t fantastic, there’s lots of junk food available." In addition to ART, Held and Soncini worked to educate the children about oral health and hygiene.

On the weekdays, the team provided care to schoolchildren, while the weekends saw them treating children of migrant agricultural workers. While some of the children were in the fields with their mothers, a significant number–some as young as age 6–worked themselves. The weekend was the only time they had to visit the Project Stretch team.

Hopefully we’ll get a dental clinic going and self-sufficient within five years," says Held. "We’re there to help out in crisis, but the idea is to get them to a point where they can take care of themselves."