MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A team of 13 dentists and dentists-in-training from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry spent a week in and around San Lucas, Guatemala, providing free dental care to the rural population.
Eight third-year Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) students and five faculty spent their spring break performing basic dental procedures under the hot Guatemalan sun. Gordon Keyes, D.D.S., retired professor of oral pathology, led the team along with William Marshall, D.D.S., Pharm.D., professor of oral surgery; Amy Everett, D.D.S., a private practice general dentist in Morgantown and former associate professor of Dental Practice and Rural Health at WVU; and Brian Sang, D.D.S., a private practice general dentist in Florence, S.C., and former WVU dentistry resident.
In San Lucas, the team split into two groups. One group went out into the fincas, or rural villages, performing extractions for the villagers. The other group worked in the clinic in town performing extractions as well as root canals, fillings, and other procedures as they were able.
Krstal Thompson, D.D.S., a third-year resident in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, was one of the faculty who took students out to the villages, where the students performed more than 400 extractions in just four days.
Oral health in that area is very poor, Dr. Thompson explained. The clinic in San Lucas is staffed by two expanded-function dental assistants, who perform dental care as they are able. Sugary foods, such as sugar-packed fruit dipped in chocolate, are everywhere. Many local people want to care for their teeth but lack the education and supplies. Thompson recalled one boy who said he brushes his teeth every day, but he doesn’t have any toothpaste.
This was Thompson’s third trip to San Lucas, her second time as a faculty member. Thompson first went as a WVU dentistry student. She was impressed by the dedication of this year’s students.
“The one day that sticks out in my mind, we were on the front porch of this building, and it had a tin roof above it, and I know it had to be well above 100 degrees. That was one of the days that they did over 100 teeth. The students didn’t even have time between patients. It was just unbelievably miserable in my head because it was so hot,” Thompson said. “The students’ shirts were drenched with sweat, and they just kept working. They never complained. I was so impressed by how this group of students really worked their tails off.”
The trip is part of a class for third-year D.D.S. students. The class focuses on rural dentistry and experiencing a new culture. The students are allowed to work more independently and apply what they’ve learned in their first three years of dental school. Thompson remembered how that impacted her when she was a student.
“You actually saw how prepared this place makes you. I’ve always said that WVU produces excellent clinicians for dentistry,” Thompson said. “And I think as a student, when you’re given the opportunity to show what you know and really put all the things that you’ve learned into play, you come back, and I know I did, with a higher level of confidence.”
PHOTO: WVU School of Dentistry students perform extractions for adults and children in the villages around San Lucas, Guatemala.