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InnovativeCommunities.Org Foundation

Friends Building Global Community

San Antonio Health and Dental Support Initiative

For most of the Mayan villagers in San Antonio Palopo and Santa Catarina Palopo in Guatemala’s Solola Department, a visit to the dentist is not high on their priority lists. Unless a tooth becomes excruciatingly painful, many will go through their lives without ever seeing a dentist. In these scenic villages on the eastern shore of Lake Atitlan, life has not changed much over the centuries—the women wear traditional long black skirts and colorful huipiles (blouses) and the older men wear beautifully embroidered pants and wide-brimmed straw hats.

In 2011, Rotarians Jacqueline Mealing and Dr. John Snively headed south from Victoria British Columbia to examine the dental health of Mayans living in the Lake Atitlan area. What they found alarmed them. Not only had large numbers of the people never visited a dentist, many had never even used a toothbrush. What was evident from the amount of decay, often involving permanent teeth rotten to the gums, was that something had to be done—especially for the children. They did what they could with basic instruments and local anesthetic, resolving to return with the means to make a difference.

In 2011, Rotarians Jacqueline Mealing and Dr. John Snively headed south from Victoria, British Columbia to examine the dental health of Mayans living in the Lake Atitlan area. What they found alarmed them. Not only had large numbers of the people never visited a dentist, many had never even used a toothbrush. What was evident from the amount of decay, often involving permanent teeth rotten to the gums, was that something had to be done—especially for the children. They did what they could with basic instruments and local anesthetic, resolving to return with the means to make a difference.

After months of presentations to Rotary Clubs in British Columbia, they had raised sufficient funds to buy a mobile dental unit--an Aseptico "Transport II" system, such as is used by the military in field situations. This suitcase-type unit was necessary, as it would have to be easily transportable, either in the back of a pick-up or on small launches, the usual form of transportation around Lake Atitlan. The Transport II unit includes fiber-optic electric hand pieces, a piezo electric scaler, and a high volume suction and saliva ejector. Enough funds were raised to purchase an LED overhead light and a patient chair as well.  A water-based sterilizer completed the equipment.  They received donations of surgical and restorative instruments, syringes, local anesthetic, composites, and assorted sundries.  Armed with this state-of-the-art equipment, Dr. Snively, accompanied by Rotarian Tricia Timmermans and Dental Assistant, Maria Consalvo, arrived at Lake Atitlan in early January. 

The long line-ups awaiting check-ups showed immediately that the need was overwhelming. For six weeks, they treated patients in the two villages, working in conditions that were far from ideal, but in these out-of-the-way places, you get what you get, and, surprisingly, you make do. When supplies ran low, they were able to obtain deliveries, usually overnight, from a dental supply company in Guatemala City. As many of the patients did not speak Spanish, a volunteer translator (the local Mayan language is Kachiquel) was a necessary member of the team. Days were long, but the rewards were high. Of the 310 patients seen, only 12 needed no treatment. One hundred and fifty-three teeth were extracted, 73 teeth were filled, and 32 patients received cleanings. Time was taken when possible to instruct on dental hygiene. Jacqueline Mealing also instructed in the schools and the community centre.

Dentists who wish to volunteer in the Lake Atitlan area will be able to use the Aseptico equipment, which has been securely stored in San Antonio Palopo. Basic Spanish, although not a necessity, is a useful skill. Should future dentists, hygienists, or dental assistants not speak Spanish, a translator can usually be arranged. The opportunities for volunteers to treat, educate, clean teeth, and assist are endless. Additionally, a logician with basic organizational skills is always an asset to a dental team.

The next dream is to purchase a portable X-ray system, which would include a digital X-ray unit (such as the NOMAD), a sensor, a laptop computer, and a lead apron. The fundraising continues, and donations are always welcome. Read more on the Guatemalan dental project at www.icoatitlan.blogspot.com. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Dr. John Snively at johnnysnively@gmail.com.

  San Antonio Palopo
Guatemala

ICO Initiatives

September 17, 2014
ICO’s Instruments4Africa provides opportunities to underprivileged children in Mali, one of Africa's poorest countries, to get an education and reach their potential. Building on Mali’s rich artistic culture, children receive performing arts training, and are part of a performing arts troupe guided by professional dance and music teachers.