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Crafting Smiles for Peru

Aspen: Aspen Dental

Date:January 18, 2017 

Twelve strangers, connected through Aspen Dental, came together in June to provide free dental care to citizens in the remote village of Quiquijana, Peru. There, people live in extremely impoverished conditions, many not even making $7 a day.

On top of the challenging working conditions expected in a third-world country, the team of volunteers faced unexpected travel and logistical hurdles as well as barriers to communication since all of the patients either spoke Spanish or Quechua. Despite the struggles, the team – comprised of five dentists, two hygienists, two lab technicians and three dental assistants – was able to break down barriers to better care, better smiles and better lives.

Over the course of four days, the team was able to treat more than 500 patients ranging in age from 3 years to 86 years old. Patient after patient presented a unique challenge, but most required extractions, prosthetics or fillings due to the significant amount of damage and decay that existed in their mouths.

Many children were nervous and scared, but climbed into the make-shift dental chairs fearlessly. “A 6-year-old boy asked me if having his six infected teeth extracted was going to hurt and I told him he’d only feel pressure,” Dr. David Sung said. “He smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and opened wide. His bravery was remarkable.”

One woman, missing all her teeth, came to the clinic and met Aspen Dental team leader Dr. Arun Srinivasan. Through a translator, Dr. Srinivasan was able to learn she hadn’t smiled in nearly four decades and desperately wanted dentures. The team’s denture equipment was stuck in customs nearly 700 miles away.

But the team broke through the barrier and improvised, converting an existing denture wax-up to fit the woman’s mouth. “She looked at her smile on a cell phone camera and I asked her how she felt,” Dr. Srinivasan said. “She didn’t say anything, but simply hugged everyone with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes.

The team was able to improvise with this woman, but Lab Technician Kaci Solan knew the team wouldn’t be able to help many more patients needing prosthetics with equipment stuck in customs. She volunteered to fly to Lima to personally collect the equipment and had to spend the night in the airport before flying back to the team the next morning. Kaci’s selfless act paid off – the team was able to create smiles for 26 people over the four days.

Hundreds and hundreds of patients had come and gone, when a young woman named Flor came to the clinic. Hygienist Amanda Prentice noticed Flor and through a translator, listened to her beg for some sort of prosthetic to fill the gap where her two front teeth should have been. Without skipping a beat, Amanda grabbed lab tech Kaci who knew she could easily and quickly make a flipper so Flor’s smile could be complete.

“She didn’t say anything, but simply hugged everyone with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes"

"She thanked us over and over again through tears of joy,” Amanda said. “It was incredibly emotional to be part of this life-changing moment. She was so happy she hung around the clinic all day showing off her new smile.”

The 12-member team performed 645 extractions, 137 fillings, 102 cleanings and made 26 dentures for a community surrounded by barriers to health and dental care. Despite the many road blocks and challenges, the team members left feeling fulfilled

“Our time at the clinic felt like one big living, breathing organism,” said lab tech Kaci. “Our seamless teamwork was inspiring and motivating. I’m amazed at how effortless it was for a group of strangers to blend our different backgrounds, experience and skills to form one strong, united front. It was an incredible team and a life-changing experience.”