By Dr. Kevin Lan, Dental Director
“You can never cross the ocean unless you lose sight of the shore.”
Now more than ever, we face a rising epidemic of dental caries in the teeth of children from the indigenous Ngäbe communities we serve. The combination of their inability to afford basic oral health products such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, poor education, lack of access to healthcare, compounded by a sharp increase in consumption of refined, sugary hot and cold drinks, has resulted in many children with decayed and broken down teeth, especially in their newly developed adult teeth, ones that will not be replaced.
2018 saw the Floating Doctors dental program explore new horizons and greatly increase our services provided to the communities of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. We established our first mobile dental team, held independent dental clinics, provided continuous oral health education and prevention, recorded dental health in the communities for research and we have hosted dental groups from the University of California Santa Barbara and the Dental Humanitarian Outreach Program (DHOP) of the University of Southern California.
14 undergraduate students from UCSB and 3 dentists visited and stayed in the communities of Nance de Risco and Cerro Brujo, where 156 patients were seen and treated. The challenges faced by this team were numerous; it was our first dental only deployment away from the medical team, the first time we had stayed in two communities and worked 4 days consecutively, whilst setting up and packing away our equipment in between both communities and working the same day. The success of this group can only be measured by the amount of hard work put in by our FD staff and the UCSB group where despite being constantly pushed outside of their comfort zones, numerous students embraced the opportunity to learn and be part of a positive life changing experience where they sought to give to those who had less, rather than how their time with us could benefit them.
DHOP held 6 clinic days from the 9th -14th December in Bocas del Toro. A total of 90 dentists, dental students and FD staff, worked tirelessly each day from 7am – 7pm in temperatures above 85°F, providing dental care to over 700 patients from 20 communities in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, where some were transported 3 hours by our boats. The DHOP clinic was a very emotional experience to work alongside such a dedicated, skilled and high spirited group where it was heartwarming to see people from communities that we know, receive high quality advanced dental treatment, like Root Canal Treatment which we could not normally provide when in their community. This is the difference between saving or losing a tooth. I will never forget the family of 4 who had traveled the whole day to attend our clinic, where a 10 year old girl had fallen and broken her upper front teeth 3 weeks ago and required Root Canal Treatment. Due to the required treatment time and inability for this family to return home that day, they were given accommodation as they were unable to afford this themselves. The next day, her father could not express to me without tears in his eyes, how grateful he was for the care and compassion we had shown to his family.
For me, it is not the numbers of patients that we can see that drives our ambition to care for the Ngäbe people, but it is to be present for those who have been forgotten or unable to access healthcare and being able to make one little girl smile again without losing her front teeth. Floating Doctors is proud to host groups like UCSB and DHOP so that we can try and inspire the next generation of healthcare providers to educate and improve the lives of others, so that we can leave our communities and world better than we found it.
Walt Disney once said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” 2018 saw Floating Doctors take big steps towards continuous and sustainable dental care to the communities we serve. 2019 will see huge development and partnerships being established as our family grows with increasing support from Europe and America. 2020 is still unknown for what the future holds, but I can predict that we will continue to work hard in providing dental care and education for the people in the communities who need our time, compassion and support against the challenges we will face together.
Through the courage of our team and those supporting us, our dreams are not far away from reality.