Thursday, October 22, 2020

SOS in the Jungle: Save Our Students' teeth!

The story of our help with dental care in La Libertad
"Some tortures are physical and some are mental, but the one that is both Is dental."
Ogden Nash

Our first dental service to the community was in June 2015.  Part of our program included having volunteers visit and work in the village.  We had a dentist from Canada stay for three days.  She gave a brief dental exam to everyone who wanted it.  About 100 children and 20 adults were seen.  She made recommendations, and then pulled the teeth that were beyond saving from 10 people.

Most of the children had never been to a dentist.  If they had been, it was to remove a rotted tooth.  They waited until the pain became unbearable, at which point they travel downriver with their parents to find a dentist to pull the tooth.  I do not know any children who have received tooth restoration for cavities.

While the teachers in the village school encourage the students to brush their teeth, few do.  Most do not have toothbrushes or toothpaste.  They have never heard of dental floss.

Their diet is high in carbohydrates (plantain, cassava, and bread when available) and they often eat candy which is brought by many visiting tourists or by their parents after a trip to the city.  Cassava is also eaten in a course-ground, roasted form called farina.  This leads to problems of abrasion and damage to the teeth.

The most common problems are cavities and advanced tooth decay.  Most of the younger children lose many of their baby teeth to decay.  As teenagers, some have lost permanent teeth.  By the age of 50, many people have lost up to one-quarter of all teeth.

After we evaluated the villagers, the worst cases had their unsavable teeth pulled.  We did this in one of the cleanest places in the village, the kitchen of the volunteer guesthouse.

Which brings us to the present.  Other than the one-time dental care offered in 2015, we have not had a dental program.  During the past year, the need of the students in the scholarship program was so obvious that we had to do something.

We have always encouraged the buying of toothbrushes and paste with their yearly scholarships, but now we teach and strongly encourage them to brush.  By the time some of the kids come to us for help, the tooth that is bothering them had so much decay that it has to be removed.  Upon inspection, cavities are almost always present.  However, their parents do not seek treatment because of the cost, and they do not yet cause significant, constant pain.

Now we look for funds to treat the scholarship student in the city of Leticia.  This is about a seven-hour round trip from the village of La Libertad.  The students wait for a passing boat to pick them up between 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning.  They usually return, after receiving treatment, between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.

During the pandemic, health/dental care has been especially lacking.  Colombia has been one of the countries with the longest lock-down periods in the world.  This has caused extreme hardship to the vast majority of the indigenous people.  The public health system where they may have received treatment in extreme dental cases has been closed.  Due to corruption and mismanagement, the complete public health system of the Colombian Amazon collapsed one week after the virus arrived in force.


Would you like to help?

Donations for the dental care of individual students is greatly needed.  We appreciate help in any form.  The students always need toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss.

We recently found a low-priced, and mostly clean, dentist in the port of  Leticia.  We take the simpler cases there.  The cost of extraction is 15 dollars.  To treat and fill a cavity the price ranges from 15 to 20 dollars.  Teeth cleaning is 15 dollars.  Orthodontic treatments (at a different office) run from 250 to 350 per year.  (The boy in the last two pictures really needs braces.)

We accept donations through  They have worked well with us for three years.

Would you like to sponsor the education of a student?

Our main program provides $110 once a year scholarships for students in the Amazon.  This allows them to buy uniforms, shoes, personal hygiene items, notebooks, pens, and other school supplies.  Sometimes this help is all they need to encourage them to stay in school and to do well.

Giving Tuesday

We will also be doing a fundraising drive for scholarships and our other programs on Giving Tuesday, December 1, 2020.  Most of that will be through Facebook, but I also expect to be sending a newsletter by email.

Here is the link to our Facebook page:

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