Army dentists create smiles in Nicaragua
April 27, 2010
MATEARE, Nicaragua -- In support of U.S. Army South's Beyond the Horizon mission, the Army Reserve's 307th Dental Company from Vallejo, Calif., returned from Mateare, Nicaragua, after providing dental services for over 1,200 Nicaraguans from April 12 - April 22.
In partnership with the National Assembly of Nicaragua, Army South conducts Beyond the Horizon, a humanitarian and civic assistance mission focused on providing medical and engineering support to the people of the region. As part of the mission, more than 30 Soldiers provided dental work and performed over 3,200 procedures, ranging from cleanings and fillings to extractions and root canals. Many patients also received dentures.
"The services we prefer to offer are those that allow people to be taken out of pain, usually by performing extractions and treating infections. On this mission, we've done a lot more than that," said Maj. Alexander Farr, Commander of the 307th Dental Company.
Dr. Valera Vasquez, a Nicaraguan dentist, said people in rural areas are not educated on dental care and "if they do have money, they won't use it for dentistry. It's not a priority for them." According to Vasquez, a simple tooth extraction may cost $10 in the only dental clinic in Mateare, but that's a lot to ask a schoolteacher who only makes $150 per month, much less a street vendor or waiter.
The 307th treated over 1,200 people in the town of Mateare, about 25 miles north of the capitol city of Managua. The first few days were the longest, with nearly 150 patients treated. After that, the daily total was reduced to 100 new patients and leveled at about 80 new patients and several follow-ups.
The procedures performed were meant to fix the immediate problems versus starting a procedure that would need upkeep by a dentist or on the patient's part.
Capt. Benjamin Owens from Vacaville, Calif., said they used silver fillings instead of clear ones because "they last longer in this environment where people might not take care of them." When a filling might not last, the tooth was extracted to reduce pain and eliminate any future issues.
"We're doing a lot of good for a lot of people," said Spc. Russ Stobbe, of Taylorsville, Utah. Stobbe is a dental hygienist and volunteered for the Nicaragua mission to help others. "Some of the people walk for a good 4 to 5 hours to get here for free services. We're making them feel better and it makes me feel good at the end of the day."
Farr, a civilian dentist in the San Francisco Bay area said it's hard to leave his practice for two weeks, but "I love these missions. I will keep doing it."
Although some Soldiers spoke fluent Spanish, there was a definite communication barrier among most of the unit.
Lucky for them, the smiles and hugs at the end of day let the Soldiers know they were appreciated. Stobbe said one of his patients came back everyday just to say "hola." "He was nine and needed a filling. By the end of the day, we gave him a filling and extraction and performed two extractions on his mother, plus put a bridge in her mouth. They were very grateful," said Stobbe.
The 307th left behind medical equipment for local dentists to continue their work. Farr visited the dental clinic in Mateare and found they only had four syringes and a vintage sterilization system.
"That's not enough for a day's work without having to constantly sterilize equipment." The equipment left behind includes 20 syringes, as well as dozens of other dental necessities.
The Nicaragua mission was part of a broader humanitarian effort that includes medical teams and construction projects by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army will send several Reserve medical and dental teams to Nicaragua and other Latin American countries throughout the year.