Dentists Travel To Ecuador To Treat Needy Youth

Eight-day Ecuadent '92 Takes Carroll Professionals On Humanitarian Mission

March 25, 1992|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

The large, dark eyes of the Ecuadorean children captivated Dr. Paul Burkett, a general dentist from Mount Airy.

"They were very expressive," he recalled. "You could see they had a soul behind those eyes."

Burkett, one of a group of 17 dentists and assistants who returned Sunday from an eight-day humanitarian trip to the South American country, also recalled "a helpless feeling when you saw a child who youknew would need more treatment next year."

Dubbed "Ecuadent '92,"the dental project consisted of mostly Carroll medical people who volunteered their time and paid their own transportation to Ecuador to provide desperately needed dental care to the people in poor farming communities around Riobamba.

Most of the dentists' patients in Ecuador were elementary school-age children, Spanish-speaking descendants of the Inca Indians -- dark-eyed, dark-skinned, but with rosy cheeks from the high altitudes in which they lived.

"We treated a lot of children who were in pain," said Dr. David Hasson, a pediatric dentist from Finksburg. "We relieved a lot of pain. You'd ask them how long it had hurt and they'd say 'forever.'

"Ninety-five percent of the children were needy, but were the most well-behaved and appreciative of any patients I've ever had," he said. "You'd see them peeking around the corner, watching us. Then, when it was their turn, they'd come willingly and accepted their treatment."

That was many but notall, said Marjorie Woodward, coordinating assistant.

"Some of thechildren were terrified to see the needle coming toward them," she wrote on the way home. "Others stoically held on to their chairs as the tears issued forth from big dark eyes and made rivulets down dirty,mud-streaked faces."

At such times, balloons, bracelets and Polaroid snapshots of themselves kept the youngsters quiet and happy.

Dr. Robert T. Scott, a Westminster orthodontist, estimated the majority of young patients needed two or three extractions.

"We felt likewe saw 1,800 to 2,000 patients and did 2,000 to 2,500 procedures," Scott said. "We gave out lots of toothbrushes and instructions in dental care in Spanish."

Burkett recalled seeing only a few children with any evidence of prior dental care, such as fillings. The government dentist, he was told, came around only once every 12 to 15 months,if that often.

Another need the dentists saw was for oral/maxillofacial surgery, or major mouth/jaw area repair such as for cleft palate, which they were not equipped to handle on this trip.

"The Indian races have more cleft palate problems than Caucasians," Scott said. "The under-bite and cleft palate are problems -- there's a genetic tendency for it."

He remembered one 8-year-old girl he and assistant Jody Koerner treated, making an appliance with four front teeth for her to wear.

"She had no upper teeth except for two back molars.She had a cleft palate which had been repaired, and they had apparently removed her front teeth during the surgery. She was thrilled withher new teeth."

The trip was organized largely by Tammy Fesche, anative Ecuadorean. She contacted the military government, which agreed to assist the group with transportation, housing, food and security.

The dentists were overwhelmed with gratitude from the Ecuadoreans they treated, giving the Americans a profound sense of accomplishment, despite not being able to do all that was needed.

"We were prepared to do extractions and basic oral surgery," Burkett said. "But our field equipment was not sufficient for the general dentistry thatwas needed, and their facility was not adequate."

The group did provide additional help by giving the Ecuadorean Army dentists training in U.S. techniques before coming home.

Scott said the group intends to return to Ecuador next February or March to provide more dental care, including the more extensive maxillofacial surgery.

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