The need for dental care in Costa Rica is big, but dental care is expensive and it is a cost
families choose not to prioritize. Therefore, Abriendo Mentes is proud to have been a part of the temporary, free dental clinic that was set up in Vía Real in the last week of March. A group of highly dedicated American dentists lead by Dr. Tommy Murph travelled all the way down to Costa Rica with the necessary equipment and enthusiasm to help educate the young Costa Ricans on how to thoroughly clean their teeth and to extract lost cause teeth from children as well as adults.
Over a three-day period, more than 500 people came seeking the expertise of the dentists and lots and lots of teeth were professionally extracted. It was amazing to experience the trust and faith Costa Ricans blindly put in these people whose language most couldn’t speak. Our role as AM volunteers was mainly to help translate during examinations, but in the chair the Costa Ricans were for the most part left alone with one or more non-Spanish speaking American dentist. Some refused to having their teeth extracted, clinging to the vague hope that their teeth would somehow be salvageable, but even though many expressed fear, as they have probably never been to the dentist before, the majority bravely agreed to get in the chair and get their wisdom teeth or decayed teeth extracted.
One woman visited the clinic on the second day but was too overcome with fear that she
couldn’t go through with the extraction she needed. She returned on the third day and sat
outside the clinic gathering courage for two hours before finally getting up, laying back in a
chair and opening her mouth up wide. Afterwards, she was so proud and happy of herself,
she was grateful to the dentists and the best of all was that she stuck around the clinic and
talked to the people who were afraid. She encouraged them with her own story and became an inspiration to many people.
It was heart-wrenching holding the hands of terrified children who needed extractions. The anesthetics might have dulled the pain, but not the fear, and we had nothing else but soothing words. Even though you know that it isn’t the pain that’s making them scream, that they’re anaesthetized and just really, really frightened it’s awful and nerve wrecking. It definitely emphasized the importance of oral hygiene and the need for education in that area, and I hope that the children will remember what they were taught about brushing their teeth and that they will use the toothbrush they were given. Hopefully, the children who had their teeth extracted won’t be scarred by the experience but rather encouraged to take good care of their teeth. In most cases, a smile did eventually make its way on the face of the child, and those smiles were the best.
Most people left the clinic with a smile tugging at the corner of their mouth while biting down on gaze or their eyes lit up in happiness and gratitude with their mouths covered with a handkerchief. We got wider smiles from those who were around a while longer waiting for the free bus provided by Ecotrans. All in all, I believe it is safe to say that the dental clinic was a huge success, and we were honored to be a part of that!