Pediatric dentistry residents provide care at home and abroad

March 28, 2014

Sugar cane is a double-edged sword. Plentiful in Honduras, the crop generates jobs for about 10 percent of the working population. Its abundance makes it an easy source to soothe a crying baby, but unfortunately, the impact of chewing on these stalks can have a lifelong impact. Such was the case with one of the patients that pediatric dentistry residents Drs. Katie Egbert, Steven Hogan and other volunteers saw this February during a medical and dental mission trip to Omoa, Honduras.


Dr. Katie Egbert, pediatric dentistry resident, with one of her patients in Omoa, Honduras

The young woman came in with extensive decay on her front teeth, a telltale sign of sugar cane consumption, even if from years ago in infancy and childhood.

“They spent a really long time with her restoring those teeth and making them whole again,” says Carol Taylor, team leader and trip organizer. “Afterward, we found out she was getting married in three weeks. She was going to have a beautiful smile on her wedding day.

“One of the ways we can change people’s lives is doing the restorations as well as relieving the pain with extractions. It’s very rewarding, and the anecdotal stories are a part of that.”

Such stories are one of the reasons pediatric dentistry residents at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry volunteer every year to be a part of the medical and dental mission, a project of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas since 1995.

The Department of Pediatric Dentistry has sent residents on the trip since 2002. Travel costs are funded through donations from pediatric dentistry alumni.

“The residents just clamor to go on this trip,” says Dr. Alton McWhorter, chair of TAMBCD’s pediatric dentistry department. “The ones that come back can’t stop talking about their experiences.

“When they go out there, they see a population of patients we don’t see here. I think it’s important for them to see another segment of the population that is in dire need of treatment,” McWhorter offers as an explanation for residents’ enthusiasm to serve patients more than 1,000 miles away. “This is something over and above a really high quality education. It’s almost like an elective experience for someone who wants to do just a little bit more.”

This year, Hogan and Egbert traveled with St. Luke’s as part of a 24-person team composed of dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, optometrists, nurses, pharmacists and church members. In only seven days volunteers saw a total of 1,800 patients. Of that number, the dental team of three practicing dentists, two pediatric dentistry residents and three hygienists treated 206 patients, performing 312 fillings and 168 extractions.

Working conditions were a stark contrast to the dental school clinic or Dallas-area hospitals. Temporary operatories outfitted with transportable dental equipment were set up in a local church. There was no air conditioning, even though temperatures in the coastal town climbed into the upper 90s. Work hours, lasting from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., were nonstop to accommodate the constant stream of patients.

And dentists didn’t have the luxury of reading X-rays before performing extractions.

“They have a lot of courage,” says Taylor, “because they have to work in the dark, essentially, to do these procedures.”

Despite those factors, “The trip was amazing,” Hogan says. “The team was fantastic, and all were focused on providing high quality care to the high amount of dental needs in Omoa.”

Needs in the area are staggering. As the second poorest country in Central America with a gross domestic product of just $4,800 per capita, most families have little to no access to oral health care. It’s one reason the group has expanded its dental services this year with the addition of restorative work and equipment such as pulsating dental water jets, which aid in removal of stubborn plaque. 

In addition to giving of their time during the trip, Egbert and Hogan went above and beyond what was expected of them by requesting financial support from friends and family to support buying medicines, equipment and supplies, Taylor says.

“They personally became a part of this, in addition to their families and friends,” says Taylor. “We have been so fortunate with pediatric dentistry folks from the college. They have just been the best teammates.”

— Jennifer Fuentes

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