Each year our office makes a trip to Guatemala to give service to some villages that have very little access to dental care. I’d like to briefly share with you a couple of the experiences we’ve had on our mission trips:
A couple of years ago I met Jorge. In his small village he was older than most men. He had a stubbly beard and leathery skin, and was quite thin. You could not tell his sandals from his feet because both were so muddy. By his estimation, he was about 75 years old. He had never been to a dentist . . . ever. He had more fingers on one hand than teeth in his mouth. Most of his teeth had simply fallen out with time, but as you can guess, the remaining teeth were badly broken down and abscessed. He was in such pain that he couldn’t eat well. He had grown up knowing nothing but pain, inflammation, and swollen gums. Because of this, malnutrition was the norm. I asked him if he wanted us to remove the rest of his teeth, and although I cautioned him that chewing would be difficult, I also assured him that he would feel much better and be able to gum his food more effectively without the infected teeth hurting him. After numbing, he got scared like a little child that had tasted Jalapeño peppers for the first time. Never having experienced the numb sensation, within 2-3 minutes he jolted out of the chair in fear. “No hay problema” I assured him. Although I’m sure he didn’t believe me in those moments, he still went through with the surgery. The procedure went as planned and after all his rotten teeth were removed painlessly, he thanked us smiling and chuckling. A few days after healing from the procedure, his pain and infection would be gone. He wouldn’t have teeth, but he also would no longer have to live in constant mouth pain.
Maria is child who lives in a mountain region of Guatemala, where access to dental care is very rare. Maria is a descendant of the Mayans, and like most with this heritage, she is dignified and proud; she came to see us adorned in her brightly colored best dress. Maria was just her first name, and when she told us her whole name it was 5-6 words in length and she insisted on being called by the entire name. Though the village where she lived was unsanitary, Maria actually had pretty good health, besides a few broken and infected teeth teeth that were painful. After we determined which teeth were hurting her the worst, we informed her mother that could help. Saying almost nothing in reply, Maria’s mother expressed relief that we had found the cause of the pain and indicated with a smile that she trusted us to help her daughter. Within a couple of minutes the offending teeth were removed. Maria was trying very hard to smile at us with a mouth full of cotton gauze, and in her quiet, wordless manner, Maria’s mother expressed a silent “thank you” before the two departed.
Every time we go to Central America we are reminded that the world is bigger than Orem, Utah. We are so blessed to be able to meet these wonderful people and have such a great experience helping them.
-Dr. Glenn Payne, DDS