For people in the United States, access to health care is taken for granted. For many countries, they don’t have access to basic needs such as dental care. Over the summer, 10 students and faculty dentists from the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University traveled to Nicaragua with two other dentists as part of a ministry outreach group to provide free dental care.
Just outside Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, is one location where dental care is very limited. Getting to the region wasn’t easy and required several flights and a four-hour bus ride to reach the rural town of Rio Grande.
This was a life-changing experience for some of the DCG students in more ways than one.
Josh Greenway had never even stepped foot on an airplane before, and to see the amount of patients who hadn’t had dental care really reaffirmed why he’s chosen the dental field.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to get into dentistry itself was to be able to have my own practice one day and be able to let my life be an example to my patients,” said Greenway. “Getting to work with patients and getting to make a big impact on them that you can visibly see their joy and gratification was incredible. It really kind of changed my perspective on being grateful for what we take for granted because people there just don’t have the same opportunities.”
While the local pastors and churches started to prepare for the visits, the students had to set up their equipment and worked with the pharmacy and medical triage as there were other clinicians using the same space at the same time.
Over the four days, they tended to close to 1,700 patients, including 164 dental appointments. At times, there were lines out the door as they were seeing up to five patients at a time during the course of an hour.
Greg Griffin, DMD, was the faculty adviser for the trip. He graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1998 and began volunteering at DCG in 2016. Griffin is now a faculty member of the Department of General Dentistry.
“As a faculty member, I was extremely proud of our students down in Nicaragua serving with Global Health Outreach,” said Griffin. “From the very beginning, our dental team was a well-oiled machine. The students took lead to handle crowd control and triage, while rotating between oral surgery, operative dentistry and perio throughout the week, so each could get experiences in all areas.”
“I think I definitely would want to do it again. I’m kind of in that stage now where I’m going to be leaving, and I’ll be graduating this May. But I definitely plan to do more trips like this in the future, whether it’s with this organization or any organization. That’s just something I want to be a part of.”Josh Greenway
Besides doing basic dentistry, the volunteers also did a number of things they might not get to do a lot of during their time at DCG including extractions, complex procedures and even surgical procedures. These procedures became great learning experiences that can translate into their practice one day.
“Dr. Taeyoung Lee (a recent DCG alumni), Dr. Nelda Moralles and I were the attendings covering each procedure and were so impressed with our students’ clinical abilities. It was indeed a blessing for the wonderful people of Rio Grande, but in the end, I think the real gift was the appreciation we received from the local community and seeing our students use their vacation time to serve others, using the skills they have learned. It was not easy work, and it was hot!” said Griffin.
The trip was also faith-based. They held a vacation Bible school and were able to reach out spiritually to the patients they saw.
Greenway added he would certainly be interested in doing a similar trip in the future.
“I think I definitely would want to do it again. I’m kind of in that stage now where I’m going to be leaving, and I’ll be graduating this May. But I definitely plan to do more trips like this in the future, whether it’s with this organization or any organization. That’s just something I want to be a part of,” said Greenway.