During their late September visit to Whitehouse, Jamaica as part of Great Shape! Inc.’s “1,000 Smiles Project,” the Alameda Pediatric Dentistry team treated as many as 90 kids a day.
The team was headed by Dr. Sharine Thenard, who says Jamaican kids were excited to see a dentist. “I met a few teenagers who had never seen a dentist in their whole lives. Some children had perfect, healthy teeth. Others had really extreme cases of decay.”
The challenging task of managing long lines of eager patients belonged to APD’s Financial Coordinator Christina Mendoza, who gave priority to those with abscesses, pain, or shaky teeth. Christina also formed lines for cleanings and other restorative work.
“I did my best to have everyone seen; if that was not possible I would make a list at the end of the day and those patients would be first in line the next day. As for the children, all were seen on the same day.”
Dr. Thenard, Christina, and six other team members, including registered dental assistants, a clinical manager, and office staff, set up their clinic in a church, moving pews over to position their dental chairs. They worked in hot, humid conditions with no AC or running water and intermittent electricity.
“We had to power everything else with a generator,” Dr. Thenard says. “The first day, the generator burned out, so we couldn’t do a lot of the dental work that we wanted to do. Our drills and suction wouldn’t work, and sometimes the lights went out, too.”
“We had to work on some very young children without anything to relax them or calm them down. So that was unfortunate, but we did the best we could do. Also, some children had extremely poor oral health. We couldn’t do everything we wanted to do, so we just took care of the worst dental problems in their mouths to get them out of pain. There were so many children to treat, so we had to triage and manage them the best we could.”
Among the children they helped, Christina well remembers a 15-year-old girl who had a severe abscess on her upper right side. The girl came to the church with a severely swollen face after being in pain for five days. “If she had never come in to be treated she could have gone blind,” Christina recounts. “The girl came back a few days later and looked so different and was very thankful.”
Dr. Thenard was touched by the kindness and friendliness of the Jamaican people, and seeing the children was the highlight of her trip. “The parents were so appreciative and attentive to what we were telling them.”
Christina looks forward to returning next year. “This trip was so amazing,” she says. “It was worth working in hot and humid weather. Just knowing we made a difference in people’s lives brings joy. The people of Jamaica are so wonderful; I got so many hugs.”