Friday, May 29, 2015

Creating bigger smiles!

Alright, mi amigo.  Good job!
Alright, mi amigo. Good job!” He high-fived and knuckle-bumped the youngster, cheerfully congratulating the boy on his examination results. 
Dr. Lauten Johnson, a sandy-haired, blue-eyed, dentist from Alabama USA was arm-pit deep in elementary children. I met up with him and other Smile Foundation volunteers, Dr. Frank Cain, Hygienist Tizzy Howard, and Lauten's family friend Baily Martin at the Andres Quintana Roo Elementary School on Isla Mujeres.

Waiting for their turn
The group was mid-way through their seventh annual visit, a week-long intense schedule of dental examinations available to all the children on the island. Moving from school to school they plan to check as many children as possible, referring some for emergency surgery and repairs, as well as promoting daily dental hygiene. While waiting for the next class of kids to arrive, Dr. Johnson gave me a bit of background information. The Smile Foundation started coming to Isla in 2008, using first the Red Cross building, and then the Centro de Salud (Health Centre) for their examinations. Over time neither situation proved to be completely satisfactory due to changes in personal and their unfamiliarity with the work of the group.
Baily, Lauten, Tizzy, Manuel, Frank - at the school
Each year anywhere between ten and fifteen volunteers make the trip to Isla. It's a mixed crew of dentists, hygienists, assistants, dental students, translators, and family friends who are enlisted to help. Caroline Rush and her daughter, who are very involved with The Smile Foundation had to return to the USA earlier in the week for a family emergency. Most of this group originates from Alabama, Tennessee, or Florida, and this year a young Colombian national, Manual, is assisting with translation.
Dr. Frank Cain and Tizzy Howard at the school
I hung around with the group for an hour or so at the school, watching them interact with the youngsters. This was the easy part of the day for everyone, a quick check, a few laughs and giggles and most of the kids were all set to go back to class. Several had cavities that desperately needed attention and it was strongly suggested to the parents that they should bring the child to the clinic later in the day.

X-Ray gun that transmits the image to a laptop
Around two in the afternoon the fourteen volunteers assembled in at the Instancia Municipal de la Mujer in Las Glorias, gearing up for a busy afternoon. When I arrived there were at least forty children and their parents waiting for the opportunity of free dental work. As the first of the doctors and assistants arrived, I slipped through the doors into the communal procedural room. There were chairs for a dozen patients, rows of gleaming medical tools, tables stacked with toothpaste, floss, brushes and fluoride paste. The first batch of patients and their parents filed in, apprehension filling their young eyes: What happens now?
One young lad desperately needed to have an extraction done. He was very brave at the beginning when the technician used the new radar gun x-ray to take an image of the damaged tooth. However when the anaesthetic-filled needle was slipped into his mouth his heart wrenching yells were enough to weaken the strongest resolve. And then the actual extraction took place; balanced on chairs, hugging the sobbing boy the three adults worked to relieve his pain. Other children stared in wide-eyed terror. What were they doing to him? And then it was over, copious hugs administered, cartoon stickers applied to bare skin, and tears dried. This will scene repeat again and again during the afternoon and all through the week. Very tough to do, but so very necessary.
Comforting cuddles after the extraction
As I slipped out the doors, back into the waiting room the first two faces I saw were a brother and sister, probably about ten and twelve years old. Perched on the edge of their chairs they stared at the doors. Having heard the screams of the first young boy, they were ready to run from the building. 
I smiled encouragingly at their mom. The poor woman was in for a traumatic time with two youngsters needing work. About then a twisted version of a county and western song flicked through my brain: Mommas don't let your babies grow up to eat sugar ....

So, how can you help?
In 2015 The Smile Foundation purchased an autoclave high pressure cleaner, an ultrasonic cleaner, and a cool laptop with an x-ray gun that creates instant images. The goal for 2016 is to purchase a proper dental chair, a suction compression unit, and enough supplies to offer free fluoride treatments to each child.
Cleaning and fluoride treatment
They are desperately searching for dry, weather-proof storage for equipment and supplies. In past years Mim and Tony Gallagher have been very generous, offering to store extra items at their casa, but with the planned for equipment additions that may not be possible in the future.
There is always the easy way to help out: money. Donations are gratefully accepted for funding the week-long event, and for more equipment.

Comforting a scared daughter
Or if you are a boat owner, and are planning to head south to Isla Mujeres for the winter fishing season, you could transport a piece of equipment. Tiffany and Brad Wareing are working on coordinating this task.
Plus you can give 'em a big [LIKE] on FaceBook at to spread the word about their outstanding efforts to improve dental health for our island kids.
And last but not least don't forget to say thank you to wonderful islanders like Bonnie Hamilton, Tiffany Wareing, Vivian Reynaldo, Kristen Tywan, Mim and Tony Gallagher whose big hearts and caring attitudes make events like this happen.
A very special thank you to this year's volunteer crew: Dr. Lauten Johnson, pediatric dentist, Dr. Clark Thomas, pediatric dentist, Dr. Frank Cain, dentist, Dr. Brandon Pennington, dentist, Dr. Hunter Hale, dentist, Claire Mitchell, hygienist, Valerie Madison, hygienist, Cinthia Bueno, hygienist, Tizzy Howard, hygienist, Paige Preston, hygienist, Baily Martin, dental assistant, Perry Martin, dental assistant, Richard Lang, dental assistant, Juddy Carlton, dental assistant.
Cleaning and fluoride treatments
Thank you all for making this island in paradise an extra special place to live.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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Gailmarie7 said...

Proper dental hygiene is neglected way too much here. We took my new goddaughters, 10 and 12, to the dentist in LaGloria because one had a toothache. OMG. One had to have 5 extractions, the other 3, and uncountable # of fillings, some very deep, and I think root canals. I paid, cheap by NY standards, but still totally unaffordable for parents. Of course, if teeth had not been totally neglected, would not have gone this far. they had NEVER been to the dentist before.
Too much soda, sugary fruit drinks, candy, everything is rotting the teeth of Isla kids. How can it be stopped? I know the schools are trying but it is the parents who are giving them this stuff...Hopefully next generation will know better. Meanwhile, what SMILE Foundation is doing is wonderful, but we need them here more than one or two weeks a year. I realize there are other places with similar needs, but just dreaming.
Meanwhile, visitors,please don't bring candy or sweet treats for the kids. Little toys, school supplies, you can get multiple little toys from Oriental Trading or E bay...kites...They would be fun, don't see many of them here, don't know why. Just spare the teeth!

Life's a Beach! said...

Great post about a great group of volunteers! I'll admit this post takes me back to the dentist's waiting room during childhood. Shudder.

John Lichty said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for introducing us to The Smile Foundation! Nan Lichty