During the summer of 2005, many Puerto Rican volunteers from the nonprofit organization “Iniciativas de Paz-Brigadas de Paz” went to a Guatemalan community called San Jose de Nacahuil to provide medical, dental, and educational services. The purpose of the mission was to help others in a volunteer service, to transform lives, and above all, to receive love.
Among the volunteers were three students from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Science Campus School of Dentistry: Luis Cintrón Pintado, Monica Pacheco Claros, and me. With supervision from Dr. José A. Alvarez, an endodontist, and Dr. Josefina Quiñonez, a general dentist, both from Puerto Rico, we carried out preventive and restorative procedures as well as minor surgical procedures, mainly extractions.
At the dental clinic, the patients were primarily young women with their children. Most of the children had nonrestorable deep cavities on permanent teeth. Others presented supernumerary teeth or the baby bottle tooth decay syndrome. The factors that probably influenced their oral health status most were poor nutrition and hygiene, along with the lack of any health professional services and preventive care due to inadequate education.
Another task we carried out was to educate the children about prevention in oral health and environmental risks. Children were divided into three age groups, each one with a dental student as educator. Topics like functions of teeth, tooth-brushing techniques, and the importance of dental floss were presented in a dynamic, musical, and original way. Educational materials and toothbrushes were the rewards for those children who listened and participated.
For we dental students, this experience represents more than just growing professionally as future dentists. “The experience was extraordinary. Every time I helped a patient was my biggest demonstration of love to God,” said Luis Cintrón, a fourth-year student. Monica Pacheco, a third-year student, said, “The Lord’s blessings made this an act of love for them and for us.” For me, the experience was a shining, sparkling, and radiant experience. After the second year of giving love to these people, I realized it’s part of my mission as a spiritual being and as a drop that belongs to the ocean that is God. As Dr. José Vargas Vidot, the Iniciativas de Paz leader, said, “More than poverty, we found abundance of spirit; more than necessity, we have found love.”
Cristina M. Abreu Sosa is a fourth-year student at the University of Puerto Rico School of Dentistry.