Shreveport Dentist Mission Trip
Recently I traveled from Shreveport to Guatemala City, Guatemala. There I met 21 other dentists and three of their spouses. We were briefed on our upcoming dental mission by the two organizers of our mission. Dr. Tommy Murph of South Carolina and Dr. Gayle Fletcher of Texas. These two fine dentists lead similar dental mission trips to several areas of Guatemala 4 times per year. The operation that they have is very well planned, they have 2000 lbs of instruments, 5 sterilizer machines and tables, chairs and suction machines. They had an entire U haul truck filled with gear for our trip.
We arrived to Monajas, Guatemala on Palm Sunday. Once we arrived, we got on a big bus and traveled on small winding roads through the mountainous country for 3 hours to the village we were going to be working in for the next few days. We were about 60 miles away from Guatemala City. The predominantly Catholic population was kicking off holy week with a festival in the town square. We spent the afternoon setting up for our week of service.
Over the next 3 and 1/2 days, we saw just over 500 patients of all ages. We worked as late as 7:00 pm. We provided extractions for painful, swollen, infected and badly decayed teeth. I actually focused on removing impacted wisdom teeth, but I did see children as young as three and treated all other patients when no wisdom teeth needed to be removed. We provided the people of this small village with antibiotics, pain pills, clothes, toys and various articles for personal hygiene. The people were very friendly and welcoming. They all tried to take care of themselves but did not have access to healthcare or education.
Another reason that the tooth decay was so rampant is that the drinking water does not contain fluoride in it as our water does. Because they do not know better many of the parents put their kids to sleep with bottles filled with sugary soda thus causing big problems. We saw many many toddlers that needed all of their teeth removed due to extremely severe tooth decay. We gave injections of antibiotics to the really sick children whose tooth decay had created large infections. The parishioners of the local church provided us with lunch each day which consisted of thick corn tortillas that were being made on every street corner plus rice and stewed chicken drumstick or thigh.
The food was fine and provided us with all the energy we needed, but we had to use bottled water for drinking and tooth brushing because of the water quality. About half of the dentists on the trip fell victim to the stomach bug at some point on the trip. Luckily, I stayed healthy.
This was an experience I am very grateful for, and I look forward to going on similar mission trips in the future. When you see 5-year-old boys collecting firewood so their Mothers can cook over a fire inside a 50-gallon barrel it has a tendency to level you. We are so blessed in the US to have such an abundance of resources.
Most of the people in this country have very little in fact 11,000 people live inside the city landfill in Guatemala City. One thing that I noticed on my trip was that the people had a very strong sense of family and community. I saw siblings helping each other and multigenerational families living together. I saw friends helping friends, and I saw people smiling all over our village. It’s a simple way of life, and the community love runs deep.