Proximo para dental, por favor! Next for dental, please.
That was my oft-repeated phrase and, try as I might, probably spoken with a decidedly non-Spanish accent.
I was given the task of coordinating the incoming patients for the mobile dental clinic during our Corner of Love (see last week’s Church Corner) medical-dental trip to Nicaragua in January.
Being way too familiar with dental visits in my life, I could feel the anxiety of the patients as they handed me their Corner of Love clinic cards. They weren’t there for an annual check up and cleaning. Most had abscessed teeth, gum infections and oh, how their mouths must have hurt.
We were blessed to have three dentists on the trip, two from the Plateau and one from Everett. Our team went out each day as we visited five remote villages with our mobile clinic. Each morning we packed the pickup with all the dental gear, chairs, lights, portable drills, dental instruments and supplies, tables and sanitizing equipment. At the end of each day, we packed up and resupplied for the next day.
There were five of us working with the dentists, setting up dental trays, coordinating patients, handing equipment to the dentists and field sanitizing the instruments. Only one of the support crew had any experience as a dental technician. The rest of us were ordinary, everyday folks. Having a heart to serve was as important as a dental certificate.
The three dentists saw more than patients in the five hours a day we offered the clinic. Fillings took time and work, but those were rare. Most of the patients needed more than one extraction.
Our portable autoclave to sanitize the dental instruments broke down the first day, so instruments could only be used once and had to be sanitized with a long boiling procedure at night. More than once we were down to the last clean instrument.
I remember one 9-year-old boy. He sat in the chair and opened his mouth. His teeth had black holes through them.
There is little if any electricity or refrigeration and the drinking water is not good. So the kids drink Coke and Pepsi. Sugar is inexpensive and I saw many kids sucking on small bags of sugar. And their teeth, or what was left of their teeth, showed the effects.
Corner of Love is working with the 60-plus villages they serve to put in safe drinking water systems and is building a permanent medical-dental clinic, centrally located, to better serve the poor people of the remote villages. They are building classrooms in the complex to teach village leaders about oral and general hygiene. There is much to do to improve the lives of these proud, rural people and they are eager to learn.
We didn’t keep track of the number of teeth pulled, but our dentists did a remarkable job of helping people in the most difficult of environments, working on dirt floors with an occasional chicken or pig checking us out. You can check out the opportunity of a lifetime to serve some wonderful, but oh so poor people at www.corneroflove.org.
Open your heart wide and experience the kingdom of God.