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Clinical Abroad: Guatemala

Apr 24, 2019 | Canadore College

(CHISEC, GUATEMALA) – Seven third-year dental hygiene students from Canadore College decided to complete their program’s clinical curriculum component in Guatemala.

Through an opportunity presented by Kindness in Action and CH’INA US LI AMAQ’INK (CHILA) the students became a part of a team of dental professionals to volunteer in northern Guatemala, where the need for oral care is still huge despite the work done over the past five seasons.

The group was led by Dr. Brian Smith, founder and physician at CHILA, where students and dental hygiene professor Nicole Edworthy worked approximately six hours a day, each seeing up to six clients a day, of all ages and degrees of difficulty.

Equipment was moved from one remote location to another daily. Dental services were offered primarily in community centres and school houses. Even though the environments differed, the fact that performing the procedures in ‘the field’ of a third-world country was very different than what the senior students had come to expect in the controlled environment of the college’s dental lab was the common thread.

The students assisted and/or provided services such as scaling tooth extractions, restorations and surgeries.

The group was also fortunate enough to be offered to tour the home of a local midwife, one of the most austere social positions within the area. After taking a 20-minute hike up a mountainside, they were escorted onto a property with two buildings, one used for sleeping quarters and the other for cooking over an open-pit fire. While this family of means had two different locations in which to cook and sleep, most of the population carried out both activities in one room, giving rise to serious respiratory disease. Rainwater is the main source of water supply for all households. At best, a single sheet of mesh to catch large debris and dirt covers the reservoir.

Each of the students reports that the experience gave them confidence in their skills, helped them to stop second-guessing themselves, and to trust their judgment. They say that it was very eye-opening to see first-hand how the people of Guatemala live in comparison to Canadians, as well as their overwhelming sense of community, inspiring attitude and work ethic.

Additional student takeaways:

Olivia Doucette

The first thing that I significantly noticed about the local population was how incredibly brave and tough they were. I believe it has something to do with how they were raised and their overall living conditions. It was so humbling to watch them have so much trust and faith in us. To them, we probably seemed quite intimidating because in most cases they had never seen anyone like us, especially the young children. Every single one of them willingly came to lie down and kept their mouth open for as long as they had to, no matter what. I had this one little girl who might have been six. During the procedure, it became apparent that she was in pain. I looked down only to find her with tears rolling down her face and I could make out a faint whimper. I immediately dropped what I was doing and called a translator over to find out what was wrong. I found out that my application of the silver diamine fluoride was giving her pain and I realized what the people we were serving were willing to go through in order to receive the health care that they needed and deserved.

Samantha Stripe

A key moment of the trip that really resonated with me was when I had the opportunity to assist a pedodontist on the second day. A little 9 year-old-boy came into our care with the worst case of rampant caries I have ever personally seen in practice. Of the 17 mixed dentition teeth, he had present in his mouth, nine were extremely decayed and need to be removed, and three other teeth needed restorative procedures to be saved, which would leave the child with only five viable teeth in his mouth. I was asked to provide comfort and prevent flailing by placing my hands over the child’s. At one point when a decaying root in the gums was being worked on, I just instinctively grabbed his hand; the child’s mother didn’t have anyone to comfort him because his mother was off having other dental work done. Shortly after, the child was the one to grab my hands and squeeze them so tight. I was immediately emotional that the child wanted my comfort to help him through these extractions. I was so moved by this little boy’s strength to go through that very painful procedure and I was so touched that he appreciated and wanted my comforting. This experience was unlike anything I have ever done and I am so grateful that I was able to help him receive the care he so desperately needed.

Samantha S. and Olivia both say that they intend to volunteer with Kindness in Action again in the future. They were also accompanied by third-year students Taylor Bolton, Katelyn Dehoog, Samantha Lindner, Danah Pollard and Alexandria Shawongonabe.

The students learned a great deal about interprofessional collaboration as they worked alongside a team made up of dental hygienists, dentists of all specialties, physicians and other health care professionals.

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