Dentistry in the Highlands helps out in Honduras
|By Sue Tiffin - Staff Writer | March 13, 2014
Six years ago, Minden dentist Bill Kerr went to Honduras on a one-week dental mission.
Since then, the dentists and hygienists that make up the Dentistry for Honduras Health Outreach team have treated 2,725 children and completed 146 root canals, 564 fillings, 644 extractions, 11 partial dentures, and an orthodontic appliance for a boy whose front teeth caused him to be known locally as ‘Rabbit.’
Kerr said the team – which this year included his family, hygienist Lindsay Van Dyk, and Dr. Michael Cusato from Dentistry in the Highlands, and Christine Marsh from Dr. Smolen’s office – provides dental care to Honduran students from Grades 3-6, some of whom have never seen a dentist before. A translator helps the dentists communicate with the children and the Honduran dental team.
The program was initiated in 2008 through Anne Fowler, a Gooderham resident who spends half the year in Honduras. Amongst her long list of volunteer accomplishments is a healthy living program to teach youth in the impoverished country about proper hygiene and diet. She realized that the kids’ tooth decay was so bad, dental care was as important as dental treatment. After she presented Bill and his wife, Lisa, with a Powerpoint presentation to show why their help was needed, Lisa told Bill, “well, you have to go.”
“While there we quickly realized that there was an unbelievable need for urgent and emergency dental treatment,” said Kerr, who explained that dentists in Honduras tend to use extraction methods with inadequate freezing, and that because they are hired by a poor government, they are sometimes not paid at all.
Kerr said that the dental team teaches interested Honduran dentists to improve their skills, and that they often leave equipment – like a Dryvac unit donated by an Eagle Lake cottager this year – for later use by Honduran dentists.
The volunteer work is paying off.
“The first time we went, it was mindboggling – every kid needed treatment,” said Kerr. “This year, we had the biggest pile of “do not need treatment” forms.”
Kerr said that a sort of trickle-down effect means that the kids they first treated in Grade 4 have taken better care of their teeth and that in turn, the community has embraced better dental care practices. This results in fewer dental issues in younger children.
“Sometimes you go off somewhere and you wonder if it’s making you feel good, rather than making a difference in the community,” said Kerr of the program that sparked the idea for the Volunteer Dental Outreach in Haliburton County. “But we can see that in this community, in El Porvenir, it’s impacting them. There is change.”
Cusato, Kerr’s business partner, said that the program is making a difference in part because of aggressive oral hygiene instructions. Residents are told they should avoid pop, a drink that is pervasive in the culture.
This year was the third time Cusato made the trip. He said that once he had experienced dental treatment for poor Honduran children, he wanted to keep helping as long as he was able.
“Many parents wish us God's blessing as they are so appreciative for the care their kids receive,” he said. “The cutest thing is to hear a young Spanish-speaking child say 'thank-you' in English. It warms the heart!”
Kerr agreed that he was interested in helping the people in Honduras for as long as he could.
“I don’t see myself ever not going,” said Kerr. “As long as I can go, I will.”
SUE TIFFIN is a reporter for The Highlander and holds the honour of being the only married reporter with a baby in the county. She returned to Minden after 16 years of Toronto and Seoul life, and is trying to relearn Canadian culture. Her dog, Jjigae, is a rare breed in Canada and tends to take up more space in the bed than is physically possible. Sue is fascinated by science and nutrition,and sometimes forgets that it’s not always a good idea to be honest.