14 June 2012

happy birthday. now let's pull out those rotten teeth.

This is Sonya. It's her birthday. And we have to pull out her teeth.

I asked her mama if there would be a party for her, she shook her head no. She probably figured getting rid of the ache that makes her daughter cry at night would be present enough. Maybe birthdays aren't as big a deal in a country where school is an hour paddle on the river and town is twice that far. Sonya lives in the village of Blackwater and was just one of many who needed rotten teeth removed. She did smile for me later.  
This trip, for me, was Intro to Dentistry 101. I learned how to answer those critics I met on my third flight who wondered if we were just doing more harm than good. I would say, "did you know an untreated, abscessed tooth sends bacteria into the bloodstream and can compromise the immune system and even cause death?" Not to mention the pain of a tooth decayed to that level.

These untiring dentists relieved the pain of many. They worked steady for five days with very few breaks.
On day two, I got to meet Sue, a 3rd grader from the village of Red Hill. She was very scared. Her extraction was difficult and required minor surgery to remove tooth roots and nerves. She understood when I told her to squeeze my finger.
She squeezed. And I felt helpful. It was a special moment. Love you Sue. You did real good.
We told these three to meet us on our way back to Mabaruma. They were on the dock waiting. Debra and Jonathan didn't waste any time getting set up and soon those hurting teeth were out.
At each stop, we gave away hygiene items to everyone we could. We ran out of toothbrushes {triple that order next time}, but had plenty of Colgate and floss.
Karen, dental hygienist, brought along her teeth to demonstrate what happens to baby teeth when the permanent ones start to come down. And her giant toothbrush to show proper brushing technique.
One older lady had her very last tooth removed. I'm sure it will be easier for her to mash the rice.
We saw more than 200 patients. And removed at least 300 teeth, probably more.
Every child received a lesson in brushing and tooth care.
We made a difference.