Monday, May 2, 2011

Smiles in Honduras

Restoring a tooth

Having just returned from our 6th annual Honduras medical brigade  mission trip, I thought I would comment on the dental health  we saw last week.
The dental Team 
Tooth decay is a severe health problem in the population of Honduras.
Almost every dental patient I see has multiple large cavities. Of the hundreds of patients I have seen over the past 6 years, I don't believe I have seen more than a couple of patients who still have all of their teeth. Replacement teeth with crowns or bridges are not affordable and most patients only have the front teeth filled. Typically a patient in the brigade has a choice of filling a tooth or extracting 1 or 2 teeth. They will most likely choose to fill a front tooth and suffer with the abscessed back teeth.
A typical young dental patient
Why so much tooth decay?
Some reasons for the high decay rate include:
  • Lack of access to dental care
  • lack of access to clean water
  • Lack of a fluoride program in water
  • Lack of education about proper hygiene
  • Lack of hygiene products, tooth brush, floss toothpaste due to cost
  • Dehydration leading to low saliva flow
  • A carbohydrate rich diet including bags of sugar water and soft drinks

A happy patient 
What is the effect on the population?
Most of the patients we see are in constant pain. The psychological  impact of a person having badly decayed or missing teeth and an unattractive smile in huge. You use your teeth to chew your food, and digestion is affected by painful and missing teeth. These dental infections drag down the immune system making the person more prone to other health problems. It is reported that blood born infection from tooth decay is one of the leading causes of death among children in Honduras.

removing infected tooth 
What can be done?
Greater participation in sending dental teams to Honduras to treat this widespread disease.
Education is critical to helping change hygiene habits.
A topical fluoride varnish can be placed to slow the decay process.
Ultimately, a healthy economy and improved infrastructure are also key in improving the overall health of the Hondurans. 

patient having teeth cleaned 
In conclusion. 
This problem of tooth decay is so widespread and entrenched that it may take decades to see a radical change. Every little bit helps and I believe it is our duty as an affluent society to get involved.

 I welcome your comments.

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About Me

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Born in the Midwest. Married with 6 children and 3 grandchildren. Attended Maine West High School, Harper Jr College, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois College of Dentistry. Practice in Crystal Lake, Illinois.