Volunteer Change for Children Dental Brigade Makes Great Smiles Better in Nicaragua’s Bosawas Biosphere Reserve

Bosawas, Nicaragua – At 66, Mario is old for Nicaragua’s Bosawas tropical rain forest, and he’s suffering. That’s what ten badly decaying teeth do. They leave you in chronic pain and threaten widespread infection.

The Change for Children team, February 2016, in the village of Yakalpanani.

He got word that a dental brigade was setting up shop in Pamkawas, a village of about 250 families on the shores of the Rio Coco River, so one sunny morning in February, he pulled on his rubber boots, shouldered his canvas sack backpack and hiked off.

Three hours later, Mario trooped into the clinic triage room, one of a couple schoolrooms perched along the edge of the village. Volunteers with Edmonton-based charity Change for Children had floated in by dugout canoe after dawn and quickly set up a clinic, including a generator and air compressor.

A morning highlight had been an example of typical rainforest fun: A volunteer howled then chuckled when something (a bat?) had flown from the pit of the outhouse where she was doing her business. Mario’s arrival trumped that, though. A translator listened intently as the words of his story rolled over his painful teeth. Volunteers were so moved by Mario’s long walk and rotting mouth that he was bumped up to the front of the dozens in line. His visit could take hours, too, so best to get off to a quick start.

Mario was one of 78 patients that day, and what was in his mouth accounted for ten of 117 teeth extractions, teeth pulled by dentists hunched over tables and planks covered by black garbage bags, surrounded by makeshift work benches and delivery carts.

Through the five clinics in three communities, the volunteers – three dentists, supported by hygienists, dental assistants, and general volunteers who sterilised equipment, comforted and calmed patients and set up and managed infrastructure – would treat almost 500 locals, yank 807 teeth, fill 83, and clean 77 sets. The volunteers’ work was tireless in hot and humid conditions. And while there was no grumbling, there was a lot of laughter and camaraderie.

Change for Children (CFC) president and Leduc dentist Sonu Sharma is modest about their work. “We’re trying to minimise the pain these people live with,” said Sharma. “It doesn’t seem like much, but hundreds of people are in less pain when we leave.”

Volunteer dentist Sonu Sharma holds a young patient at a dental clinic set up in the village of Yakalpanani in Nicaragua’s Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in February 2016.

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared Bosawas a biosphere reserve in 1997, there were but 130,000 inhabitants scattered across its 20,000 square kilometers. Bosawas is the largest protected reserve in all of Central America. – Max Maudie

<Photos by Max Maudie>