Saving smiles in Guna Yala

Niños en la isla remota muestran su habilidad en una actividad importante.

Niños en la isla remota muestran su habilidad en una actividad importante.

A fresh breeze is driving breaking white caps over Achutupu’s signature corral reefs as the visitors step on shore. Its pleasant warmth is a welcome change from the Chicago winter left behind. Twelve in number, this volunteer dental team from Illinois USA (Mission Save a Smile) is partnering again with Fundacion Uaguitupu, the De la Ossa Guna family non profit NGO, to provide badly needed oral health care to the children and adults on this island of 2000-plus inhabitants.

Mission founders, Dr. Chris Burseth and wife Patty, have been captivated by the beautiful indigenous people here. Their enthusiasm has quickly spread so that over the past several years their initial steps have ben transformed into an impressive computerized operation. This time their team includes practicing odontologist Dr.David Cause and the return of prominent oral surgeon Dr.Carl Brukch

visitor19-16_Page_09_Image_0007They soon set to work, greeted by the news that there are now nearly 600 students at escuela Iguanaisy, exceeding last year’s total of 450! Grades 7, 8 and 9 have been added to the expanding school enrollment. Thanks to the support of the school director and teachers, appointments go smoothly. The neatly uniformed students troop down from their classrooms grade by grade , making their first stop at the sheltered benches in front of the small health clinic where they give close attention to a presentation stressing the need for regular tooth-care practices and the avoidance of those decay-inducing sweet soft drinks, candies and tempting sticky, chewy snacks.

Poster-size photos reinforce the message, especially those arresting images taken last year of types of tooth decay found among their peers.

Los dentistas posan con Mariela De La Ossa de Walker en la comunidad de Achutupu.

Los dentistas posan con Mariela De La Ossa de Walker en la comunidad de Achutupu.

All grades then move on to tooth brushing with donated brushes and paste for each student. The students make this a lively event, brushing with gusto and one sincerely hopes it will become habit forming at home. This is followed by fluoride varnish application in the clinic. Any student with dental problems is passed along for fillings or extraction.

Over time the mission team has donated equipment and also leaves a great deal in storage for use in each visit. In addition, they bring an impressive amount each trip. In summary, the dentists can provide a high level of oral health care service virtually equal to their practices at home. Their portable generators provide the power for patient treatments, including computerized and digitized imaging and record keeping Regretfully, despite the commitment and dedication, it is just not possible to see everyone during the visits.

After attending to the students there is not sufficient time to attend to as many adults as they would wish. It is not easy for the team to leave under such circumstances, knowing that there is no professional dental care on their island for the people on Achutupu.

Dr.Chris and Fundacion Uaguitupu are looking for linkages with other charitable teams so that more frequent dental service can be provided. The rewards are great, in bringing relief and smiles to the faces of people formerly in pain and in helping the young people of Achutupu to enjoy a healthy future.