Father and Son Duo Spent Summer Relieving Pain, Repairing Smiles
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Oral health care falls far from the top of the list of common daily concerns for most developing nations. Basic daily tasks take much higher priority. With few options for those needing oral care, a father and son from Saratoga Springs recently made a volunteer trip to Peronia, Guatemala to promote oral hygiene through the Open Wide Foundation at Spear Education.
Dr. Marc A. Johnson of Smiles for Life Dental Care and his son Parker, a senior at Saratoga Central Catholic High School, spent one week in the village of Peronia, a town of roughly 100,000 people in the outskirts of Guatemala City. Dr. Johnson donated his time, expertise and skills to the community, performing a variety of procedures from filings to extractions, cleanings, and root canals, with Parker by his side.
“The foundation, with corporate sponsorship and volunteers, has started to build these dental clinics in places of great need with no option for dental care,” said Dr. Johnson. “They’re in some of the most destitute areas of Guatemala. On a weekly basis, you can sign up and fly down and do dentistry for one week.”
Parker hopes to attend dental school after graduating next spring and says assisting his dad whenever he can has affirmed his desire to work in the oral health care industry and given him valuable, hands-on clinical experience.
“Obviously my dad’s a dentist, so that’s been a good amount of influence,” said Parker. “But working alongside him, I’ve had a good amount of fun, especially in Guatemala. You could see the people light up when they saw their new smiles and even though it was hard to communicate because of the language barrier, you could tell they appreciated what you were doing and it was great to be a part of that.”
The Open Wide Foundation, a non-profit organization, has made it a mission to “make a significant, measurable and lasting change in the state of oral health in impoverished communities worldwide.” Peronia, Guatemala is the first of six clinics the Open Wide Foundation has planned to build in Guatemala’s most impoverished regions through private and corporate donations.
Peronia’s people have an average annual income of less than $800 a year. Their homes are comprised primarily of tin panels supported by tree limbs buried in the ground and concentrated along a mountain hillside. A downwind cliff near the edge of town is where trash is dumped into a river ravine below. The people of Peronia survive in abject poverty. Two more Open Wide Foundation clinics are scheduled to open in similar areas of Guatemala this year.
Nearly every week, one to four dentists from the United States volunteer in the clinic. A couple of local dental graduates also train in the clinic, gaining knowledge and insight from visiting doctors. Dr. Johnson says the clinic, thanks to outside funding, was able to provide everything they needed to perform primary care work.
“One of the things they do as a rite of passage to adulthood is they put gold foil veneers or crown-type things, like frames or windows, around the outside of the tooth,” said Dr. Johnson. “Unfortunately, when you eat a lot of sugar, they rot out inside and one woman was going to lose both of her front teeth. I removed the gold windows and rebuilt her tooth, did a root canal on the other one and she was so appreciative because she thought she was going to lose them.”
The Johnsons were able to treat close to 40 patients during their volunteer trip and often performed multiple procedures on each one. Parker says the experience was more than he could have asked for and would like to continue assisting his dad before he graduates.
“I’m going to college soon, so that’s going to factor in,” said Parker. “We might have more volunteer trips on the agenda if time permits.”
This isn’t the first dental mission trip for the Johnsons; they’ve donated their time and expertise to other voluntary efforts in the Dominican Republic and closer to home in Troy, New York for the Missions of Mercy Dental Care clinic. Dr. Johnson and Parker will also be assisting with oral health evaluation screenings for student athletes participating in the New York State Special Olympics.
“I tag along with my dad a good amount of the time,” said Parker. We’ve been to Missions of Mercy, then we went to Guatemala and now we’re going to the Special Olympics.”
The Johnsons are also planning a mouth guard clinic for students involved in winter sports.
For more information on the Open Wide Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.openwidefoundation.org.