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Students Bring Dental Care to Rural Honduras

Written by Adam Zewe

Five students embarked on a mission trip deep into the jungles of Honduras, bringing dental care to villagers in desperate need. Partnering with nonprofit CURE International, the students volunteered for a weeklong externship in the Central American country.

After a four-hour drive from the airport, much of it along dirt roads, fourth-year students Jeannie Yoon, Farashta Sediqzad, Dina Chehab, Sarah Knoll and Herbie Benavent arrived at the mountainside village of San Luis. They immediately sprang into action, setting up a medical and dental clinic inside an elementary school. Rotating between general dentistry and oral surgery, the students provided restorative treatments and extractions for dozens of villagers. With hundreds of patients threatening to overwhelm the classroom clinics, they worked 12-hour shifts in stifling, tropical heat. "When you're focused on helping people, the challenges just seem secondary," Sediqzad says.

For the impoverished villagers of San Luis, the clinic offers the only access to affordable dental care. Clean drinking water and oral hygiene supplies are not available, so tooth decay is widespread. Some patients suffered from so much tooth decay that only their roots remained. Cheehab was heartbroken when she had to remove all four permanent molars from an 11-year-old. "I was coping with it pretty well, but when I saw that patient, I had to take a minute and compose myself," she remarks.

The students worked one-on-one with CURE dentists and oral surgeons, learning how to provide care in a high volume environment. Sediqzad and her colleagues also learned to expect the unexpected. A young boy arrived at the clinic after stepping on a razor-sharp piece of broken glass, but the oral surgeons wasted no time stitching his bleeding foot.

Despite the struggles they faced, it was rewarding to help so many patients with such dire needs, says Knoll. "These patients are just trying to survive and they are so thankful and so loving. Serving them reminded me of why I want to be a dentist -- to end the patient's pain and save their teeth," she explains.

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