Children's Dental Health strives to be an active partner in each of our local communities. Recently, Dr. Sara Toema of our South Philadelphia office had the opportunity to expand the reach of our volunteer efforts on a global level.
Dr. Sara joined the Growing Smiles Foundation for its most recent dental mission trip to the South American city of Lima, Peru. The annual mission trip was started in 2012 and is operated in collaboration with the Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry and UPC, a local Peruvian dental school. The program provides quality dental treatment at no cost to children without access to care, or who can’t afford dental care.
Startup & Setup
For Dr. Sara and her fellow volunteers, the hard work began even before leaving Philadelphia. All the necessary dental materials including instruments, gloves and masks, portable dental units and chairs, portable x-ray machines, and sterilization units were packed in suitcases and transported with the staff to Peru. Needless to say, it was an interesting trip through airport security!
Once in Peru, the team set up shop within a local church's indoor playground for the week. While the building was very spacious and had many windows, the 100-degree heat made for a challenging dental environment for both the kids and volunteers.
Often times you would see volunteers fanning patients and fellow doctors with folders or papers to create the even gentlest of breezes. Despite the sweltering heat, the team of volunteers was undaunted as they saw patients each day from 7 AM until 5 PM.
The Daily Routine
Each day they arrived, the team was greeted at the church by local families excited for the opportunity to have their children's oral health concerns addressed. The Peruvian dental students would provide oral hygiene instructions to the children and their families and gather the necessary medical histories before any treatment was provided.
Dr. Sara and her colleagues would then conduct a clinical examination, take X-rays as needed, clean the teeth, and provide fluoride treatments. Children that required additional treatment such as fillings, extractions, or sealants were treated in the operatory area or came back the next day. Each day, there were a few tears and plenty of smiles, but every little boy and girl left with a toy, sticker, and a toothbrush on their way home.
The Language Barrier
Effectively communicating with both the children and their parents was expected to be an ongoing challenge during the mission trip, but thanks to UPC students and some of the Spanish speaking dentists, anxious parents were comforted and treatment plans were explained within a blink of an eye.
"I remember one of the parents that had a concern about her child, and with the help of a UPC student’s interpretation, I was able to address her concern," remarked Dr. Sara. "The mother was so thankful and then said, “that is why it is important to learn English”. I was so humbled and couldn’t help but say, “that is why it is important for me to learn Spanish!”
The team also utilized facial expressions, body language and gestures to provide instruction without ever needing to utter a word.
A Rewarding Experience
Dr. Sara noted that the experience was very enriching on the professional level. The diverse mix of dentists with different backgrounds and a wide range of experiences plus the dental students made it a very prospering educational environment for everyone. "I literally learned something from every single person I met on this trip and was very happy to share all that I know!
From a personal perspective, the trip to Peru was extremely satisfying for Dr. Sara. "The opportunity to give back and help someone in need, especially a child, is a feeling no words can describe. I was touched by how much gratitude those families showed, when in fact I was the one truly grateful to provide such a service."
One particular instance stood out in Dr. Sara's memory. "A little boy who just had a tooth extracted, gauze still in his mouth, puckered his lips to offer me a kiss as a token of his gratitude. I'll never forget that and how much that meant to him."
We at Children's Dental Health commend Dr. Sara on her efforts and are proud to have her as a member of our team of pediatric dental professionals. Way to go Dr. Sara! 👍