Meet the Dentists

Dentists play a huge role in helping kids with clefts live happy and healthy lives, and we are lucky enough to have a great group of dental staff on the trip with us helping serve this important function.

From left to right: Justin, Steve and Bill.

From left to right: Justin, Steve and Bill.

Even two local dentists, Juan Carlos and Antonio, volunteer time away from their practices in Guatemala City to join the team. They’ve been part of our mission from the beginning, ten years ago.

Antonio and Juan Carlos, our Guatemalan dental contingent.

Antonio and Juan Carlos, our Guatemalan dental contingent.

So what does this group of five do? Their work falls into two categories – rotten teeth and prosthetics.

First, the teeth. Dr. Steve says in Guatemala, there’s simply no education about how diet and oral hygiene contribute to dental disease. Years of high amounts of processed sugar, largely through soft drinks, and not much emphasis on brushing your teeth mean kids often come in with infected teeth.

“Dentists here support the surgeons by extracting those carious teeth that may jeopardize healing for cleft patients,” says Dr. Steve.

In short, doing surgery inches away from an infection is no bueno.

So before they get their first incision, dentists come in and remove any infected teeth. If there’s not too many bad teeth, or they’re far enough from the surgery site, they’ll proceed with the surgery. However, if there is a large amount of infected teeth and doctors feel it would lead to trouble healing, the patient may be sent home and asked to return next year.

Dr. Steven said he’s seen three patients who had teeth extractions last year return for surgery during this year’s clinic.

Next up is prosthetics. Due to causes like the cleft being too large, a patient not being healthy enough for surgery, or a past surgery hasn’t left enough blood supply to the area, surgery is not an option for everybody. So the dentists step in to create something that can help meet some needs without surgery.

Prosthetics waiting to meet their new mouths.

Prosthetics waiting to meet their new mouths.

The prosthetic looks like a retainer, but the goal is not to keep teeth straight.  These retainers help to cover the holes in their palates, allowing a patient to eat and drink without food and liquid getting up into their nose. It can also help them with speech problems.  Click here for Dulce’s strides with speech therapy.

The process of creating these prosthetics can be a little tedious. A mold of the oral cavity is made, and Dr. Steve says it takes about 4 to 6 hours to fit the prosthetic to the mold.

I thought he was just watching sports on a little TV all day.  Good thing I looked closer.

I thought he was just watching sports on a little TV all day. Good thing I looked closer.

Justin, a 4th year dental student, spends hours over this machine, grinding the prosthetics until they’re a perfect fit.

The prosthesis can also help with speech issues. The dentists can add a piece that goes further back, so the tissue in the throat can fully close around it.

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Julia was fit with her prosthetic yesterday. Dr. Steve says the piece will mean she’ll be able to speak much more normally. Julia is very shy, and he suspects her speech has a lot to do with it.

“Hopefully, now she’ll be able to be much more accepted by her community.”

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