Bethanie Baird, TCC Dental Hygiene student, visited Nicaragua this summer where she and other students cleaned patients' teeth. Below, she shares her experience with us.
After arriving in Managua, Nicaragua's capital city and the location of the airport, my first emotion was shock. Seeing so many buildings and homes with only two walls and dirt floors was so unthinkable to me. The massive amounts of trash and debris on the side of the roads were unbelievable. The most heartbreaking sight was the animals, or walking skeletons. I had never seen anything like this in my life. I admit, I was very nervous and I never thought I would survive a whole week there. After meeting our driver, Juan Pablo and the dentist we would be working alongside, Dr. Sampson, I soon realized the people were nothing as I expected.
My first experience cleaning teeth was that following day. I had seen pictures and a video of the working conditions prior to the trip, but it is nothing one can imagine until it is experienced firsthand. The patients sat in lawn chairs, and we stood either behind them, or we would squat beside them to see inside their mouths. We worked outside in the blistering heat, and after every patient we would have to wipe the sweat from our faces. The amount of decay and tartar these patients had was unbelievable, even on children as young as two. Some of the patients had never even owned a toothbrush, something we don't think about in the United States. We traveled to different cities and "sectors" as they are called, and after four days of cleaning teeth and applying fluoride to children, we counted approximately 360 patients we treated. We also had the opportunity to visit a nutrition center - this is where parents sent their children if they were malnourished and could not afford to feed them. I think we all left in tears that day. A total eye-opening experience.
These people were the kindest individuals I have ever met. They were so appreciative of our services to them and did not complain at all, even though they were in obvious pain. The procedures we performed on some patients would require local anesthesia in our clinic, and these patients did not have anything to numb them. They had a whole attitude of "my house is your house" and welcomed us everywhere with open arms. I fell in love with the culture while I was down there. Family is very important to them, and they are so trusting of one another. It was amazing to me to see people who have so little, be so grateful and so proud of what they do have. After spending a whole week without things I never thought I could live without (air conditioning, hot water, flushing toilets, technology), I started looking at things from a different perspective once I arrived back to the U.S. I wish everybody could have the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua and learn from the people and their way of life.
Pictured above: Dental Hygiene students clean teeth in Nicaragua during summer 2012.