How Dental Hygiene Students From Fortis College Helped Provide Healthy Smiles In Mexico!
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How Dental Hygiene Students From Fortis College Helped Provide Healthy Smiles In Mexico!

They say if we feel we are blessed to be doing well, we should help others too! That’s what Fortis College DH students had the courage to do!

Note from StudentRDH: There are a lot of requirements dental hygiene students need to meet in order to graduate and acquire the golden ticket. Amazingly, I have met a group of dental hygiene students who have surpassed what is expected of them and had the courage to extend help to those who are in need. ? What I admire the most about these dental hygiene students is that through their willingness to help others, they have learned how to be a dental hygienist that has a heart full of grace and generosity while working hard for their passion.

StudentRDH sponsored part of their volunteer trip to provide free dental care for an underserved population in Mexico. ☺ Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience! We are extremely proud of you all! ? Let’s find out how they made it possible!

Watch The Full Interview & Read The Blog! ✍ 

How It All Began

Orientation, it’s an eleven-letter word that elicits both nervousness and excitement. For a dental hygiene student, it means meeting sixteen other A-type personalities who just want to scrape every speck of calculus off teeth. We get a parade of teachers, all of whom seem extremely nice, and finally, our director who springs the amazing news that we will have the opportunity to take part in the biannual “Mexico Trip.” Immediately everyone’s eyes light up at the prospect of helping a community that doesn’t have access to dental care. ? It’s no shock that we were all in. We looked forward to this trip for over a year before it would become reality.

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Enthusiastically, we watched as three cohorts came and went, all of whom had attended the Mexico trip. Every six months we would hear the excitement of students packing up in the morning as they got ready to leave. After they came back, we would see their photos from the trip, and hear the stories of memories they would forever hold dear. With every trip, we saw our turn grow closer. It was fun to think about the good times we would have and what the trip would be like. ? How many patients would we help? What would they be like? How would we deal with the language barrier? These were some of the questions running through our heads, and as our trip got closer all those questions were answered. ☺

✍ Our trip orientation meeting was very informative about the upcoming trip and we also learned some things we weren’t previously aware of. This wasn’t a trip sponsored by our school or considered a school trip, but rather an organization that was created by our director. Esencial Oral Health was one of a few volunteer organizations that operated out of a facility in Puerto Penasco, Mexico. This organization also partners with Dr. Rustin Reidhead, DDS to provide much-needed extractions and fillings. So here we are, fifteen students, five instructors, and one dentist ready to provide as many healthy smiles as possible. ?

Off We Go!

The most anticipated event aside from board exams and or graduation was finally here! We arrived early at school to pack in all the portable and disposable supplies into our cars like a game of Tetris, and our caravan was off! Mexico greeted us with amazing food, beginning with a family-style dinner to fuel us for the clinic setup. Little did we know the clinic was located in a very impoverished area far away from the pretty resorts, white sand beaches, and cocktails topped with tiny umbrellas.

The drive to the clinic was down many unpaved and bumpy roads lined with tiny shacks used for shelter. Hand washed clothes hung from wires dried by the ocean breeze and there were so many stray dogs that we lost count. It was at this point we realized just how much help these families needed and motivating us to do as much as we could. That night, we set up the clinic in record time and headed to our home away from home for the weekend. 

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Our Time In Clinic!

We woke up the next morning ready to take on the day, but nervous as ever. Naturally, our hosts at the clinic had prepared a traditional Mexican breakfast for us.   It is second nature in the Mexican culture to make sure everyone is well fed. Then we threw on our loupes, picked our “stations”, and threw on the tunes to create a fun environment. It’s surprising how quickly the macarena ? can relieve nervous jitters. 

Esencial Oral Health provided all the equipment and supplies that were available at the clinic. We were limited only to what we could pack our vehicles. We didn’t have a reclining dental chair with suction, but we did the best we could to make our patients feel comfortable while trying not to totally throw our ergonomics out of the window. Portable piezo units were available to help remove old and tenacious calculus. Suction and rinse were replaced by plastic cups (one to rinse and one to spit), and our patients relaxed on reclining beach chairs.

The patients filled out a bilingual medical history, and we used our best judgment to develop a plan of action on what we could achieve for each patient in an hours’ time. ? For some, that would mean a full mouth prophy and for others, this meant just a couple of teeth.

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Our dentist, Dr. Rustin Reidhead was available to determine which teeth were most in need of extraction. He advised us as to which injections he would like us to give before walking our patients over to his building at the clinic. One somber realization we had was seeing rampant caries that nearly every patient presented with. This meant, in some cases, giving a terrified child an injection to extract bombed out deciduous teeth; all with a smile to make the experience less frightening. In less extreme cases, we placed silver diamine fluoride to arrest the progression of caries. ✅

As a group, we were humbled by the appreciation of our patients. We heard not one complaint, minimal tears, and the best patient compliance a hygienist could ask for. Many hugs were given, and blessings passed by those who received care that warmed every heart around. Throughout the day, we lean on the senior students and switched off roles when we needed a break.

The senior students provided the support and knowledge to help when we saw a patient that was more complicated than we had seen before. We also had a few instructors and students who were able to translate for us.  As the day went on, the translators ram around tirelessly asking for chief complaints or providing clarity to patient questions. They were so appreciated! As we left at the end of the first day, we felt a gratitude we hadn’t experienced before, and a duty to do even more. That day we treated 100 patients

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⏳ Second Day of Clinic!

On the second day of clinic, we were a well-oiled machine. Having dealt with the nerves the first day, we were now prepared to finish strong. The second day proceeded very much like the first, but with a slight melancholy feeling knowing it was our last day. We would have to leave this community that had changed us for the better, and hopefully, we had done the same for them.

We will remember each face and smile. Our desire to continue volunteering has increased thanks to those 200+ patients, and future cohorts will continue this work in the fall. This opportunity serves as a foundation for future dental hygienists to empower and help others.

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Related Article: How To Get A Job as a Dental Hygienist Before Graduation

Written by
Claire Jeong, RDH, MS
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