Brightening smiles in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 16            April 19, 2007

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A team of dental students from the University of Southern California (USC) visited the island this past week for a three day dental care mission. Students, faculty and friends of the University flew to Belize as part of an annual trip sponsored by Ayuda—a non-profit, secular charity that provides health care services to underserved populations throughout the Americas. A total of 49 volunteers which include 33 dental students, six dental faculty and six dentists took the entire two floors of the Lion’s Den and transformed it into a three phased portable clinic where they met with many individuals who needed dental treatment. Leader of the pack and faculty director, Harris Done commented to The Sun on this year’s trip, “We love it here, this is our second trip in three years. We have three rotating missions and we travel to not only Belize but to Mexico and Costa Rica, as well. We are excited to be here and give a helping hand in dental care. We are grateful for the participation of the dedicated volunteers and our funding partners who are working together to treat these children who are the most vulnerable to what is an epidemic of cavities and other oral health problems.”

    The University of Southern California manages a wide range of community-based oral health programs that treat the homeless, disadvantaged children, frail elderly, developmentally disabled, and medically and mentally compromised patients. Over the past years, USC faculty and students have treated more than 9,000 people during Ayuda trips to Belize, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. The freshman and sophomore dental students assisted the junior and senior students as faculty supervised. For many it was the underclassmen’s first experience being perceived and appreciated as dental practitioners. The Sun caught up with Student Director, Joe Field who commented on their experience so far, “We’re here on a mission, and we want to able to treat and see as many people as we can. As the program name implies, ‘ayuda” we are here to help. When patients come in to the Den they go thru a process where they are screened, fill out forms and we give them oral hygiene check-ups. We also give them a thorough comprehensive hygiene instruction so that they can have improved smiles.” The volunteer team also tended to patients and did necessary extractions, root canals, fillings and other dental ailments that seem to cause discomfort. The team left the island on Wednesday en route to Caye Caulker where they will be stationed on Thursday and Friday treating residents that require the care.

    After a long work week, the USC team will depart back to their respective home but not before taking a stop at the famous ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Dr. Done and the entire USC team wish to thanks all those who accommodated them on their stay. Special thanks go out to Dr. Efrain Cima and Javier Zuniga for hosting them, SunBreeze Hotel, San Pedro Lion’s Club, Sarita and Lascelle Tillete and the wonderful people of San Pedro for yet another wonderful experience.

The Smile Clinic

It was another success story for Dr. Mark Johnson and the Smile Clinic this past week at the Polyclinic. Several volunteers from the United States and Canada visited La Isla Bonita for a dental care mission.

    The dental clinic, known as the SMILE Clinic, treated patients ages three and up. Dental Hygienist Mark Johnson continues to organize and coordinate efforts for the past couple years to have the fully-equipped dental clinic so that volunteer dentists can come to San Pedro to provide efficient dental services for the community. This time around the volunteer team consisted of three dentists and two dental hygienists. Dr. Dan Pinar and Dr. Vanessa Velilla (child specialist) who hail from the “big apple”, New York City, along with Dr. Fadi Mankal from Ottawa, Canada took the time to tend to the kids. From performing root canals, extractions, fillings, cleaning, periodontal treatments exams and oral hygiene the kids received a healthier, long lasting smile.

    The volunteers hope that the clinic will be around for a long time and they emphasized their need for more volunteers and support from the community. To help the dental clinic you can volunteer, donate equipment, supplies, and help get the word out. For more information you may e-mail Dr. Mark Johnson, at

    The Smile Center offered quality, caring dentistry to the community from April 16th -19th. Special thanks to the accommodating people at: Maya Island Air, Blue Tang Inn, Changes in Latitudes and Conch Shell Hotel, Cholo’s golfcarts, Caye Chapel and the San Pedro Lion’s Club for making their stay a great one!
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