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Inside Dentistry
November 2017
Volume 13, Issue 11

Aspen Dental Gives Back

Last June, 12 Aspen Dental team members–five dentists, two hygienists, two lab technicians and three dental assistants from across the U.S.–volunteered their skills and time to provide free dental care to residents of the remote village of Quiquijana, Peru.

Over the course of four days, the team treated more than 500 patients ranging in age from three to 86 years old. Most patients required extractions, prosthetics and/or fillings due to the significant amount of damage and decay. While the trip was successful, it wasn’t without obstacles. 

Aspen Dental Practice owner and volunteer, Dr. David Sung, says the immediate and maybe most obvious challenge the team faced with every patient was the language barrier. At times, two translators were needed–one to translate Quechua to Spanish, and a second to go from Spanish to English.

The lack of knowledge and education about dental care also made things difficult for the team. Many of Quiquijana’s 14,000 residents only make $7 per day and have no access to healthcare. Before starting dental work, the team often needed to educate and review the benefits of treatment. They had to describe the risks of not having the proposed procedures to patients who hadn’t been exposed to this information in the past. 

One immediate partial denture patient stands out for Dr. Sung: 

“The patient was a woman in her mid-30s who presented with multiple fractured anterior teeth. The team rallied together to take impressions and bite registrations, and fabricate an immediate PUD denture so we could deliver to our patient in a day following extractions.

Despite limited time and resources, providing this care for her in order to remove the active infection, provide function, and improve esthetics was highly beneficial to her. She was thrilled to be able to receive a prosthesis that not only got her out of pain but allowed her to smile again and improved her self-confidence,” Dr. Sung recalls.

Quiquijana is a village nestled high in the Andes Mountains and is a two-hour drive from the closest city of Cusco. June in Peru marks the beginning of winter–this means fewer daytime hours with limited sunlight. The makeshift clinic the team assembled had limited natural light, no heat, minimal electricity and running water, and a short amount of time to treat patients. 

Lab technician and volunteer, Kaci Solan, says the cooler winter weather definitely impacted how effectively and efficiently the team could produce dentures.
“The temperature affected how the impression material set up,” she says. “We didn't have the ability to make full bite blocks, and the ‘mush bites’ got so cold and brittle they were hard for the doctors to take and even harder for the techs to utilize. Most of the time, patients were having extractions done before the dentures were fully completed, so the tight timeframes added more pressure.”
Kaci notes that equipment malfunctions, lack of necessary tools, and having to share materials, such as hot plates to heat water, challenged the team to think differently and improvise.
“Finding that magical groove to all function at a pace that worked for each of our needs was the biggest obstacle in providing quality care to all of the denture patients,” Kaci says.
Despite the logistical, language and clinical challenges the team faced throughout its time in Peru, these barriers were overcome thanks to the teamwork, creativity, drive and determination of the volunteers. Together, the team fabricated and delivered 26 prosthetics, performed 645 extractions, 137 fillings and 102 cleanings to a population in dire need of dental care and education. 

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