I recently returned from the remote village, Nuevo Renacer, in El Salvador. It was quite an eye opener. Our team of 20 arrived prepared to help dig trenches for irrigation, fine tune a recently installed well and in my case, educate and treat patients for their dental needs.
This particular village was started about 5 years ago by an organization called Agros International. Its primary goal is to teach impoverished families how to farm in an attempt to help them become self-sustaining. There are about 25 families in Nuevo Renacer.
Unfortunately they have access to sugar cane, candy, pop and lemons. All of which can cause significant dental problems in the best of circumstances. The challenge before us was to educate them about there cariogenic and erosive affect and to convince them that the smile they bring to their children’s faces will only end in misery.
Although we were able to educate and treat many patients the need was far greater than we had imagined. They do have access to limited dental services in a nearby city but due to the cost and transportation challenges it is rarely utilized. Most adults have at least 1-2 chronically abscessed teeth due to decay which when exacerbated will lead to a medical emergency.
The first patient we saw was a young, 4-month pregnant woman named Rosa. She had an acutely abscessed tooth, which had led to cellulitis (diffuse inflammation of the surrounding connective tissue) and a systemic infection. She had gone to the emergency room the previous day only to receive an antibiotic that was harmful to the baby. Luckily, we brought some appropriate antibiotics and I was able to incise and drain the abscess. Unfortunately with the limited equipment I was allowed to bring I was not able to extract the tooth, which would have been the preferred treatment. After several attempts during our stay to get Rosa the care she needed by the time we left, one week later, she was still untreated. We did leave her in the care of our interpreter who assured us he would follow through. But, if this is the standard of care for someone who had transportation and the necessary funds to get treatment you can only imagine the obstacles people have to get adequate care. In this dire situation prevention is definitely the key.
We were able to either examine or treat almost everyone in the village and have sent a detailed report to Agros International describing the magnitude of the situation.