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Dental students bring smiles to Nicaragua

Charlie Paladino and Cassie Martin, two second-year dental hygiene students, assist patients.

Charlie Paladino and Cassie Martin, two second-year dental hygiene students, assist patients.

When 21 OTC dental students returned from spring break, they had big smiles on their faces because of the hundreds of smiles they left behind in Nicaragua.

For the third year in a now, a group of dental students gave up their spring break vacations to take much-needed assistance to residents in and around Masachapa in the Central American country from March 1-10. The students raised the money themselves and bought the medical and dental supplies to take on the trip.

“It’s huge for young people to do what they did to get there,” said Rebecca Caceres, director of OTC’s dental hygiene program, who accompanied the students. “The students assist the doctors with extractions, fillings, fluoride applications and cleanings.”

For five days, the students worked with two American doctors and seven Nicaraguan doctors to treat 550 patients. The open-air hospital had 15 chairs, one portable dental unit consisting of a high speed dental handpiece drill and an air/water syringe for irrigation and air.  It is activated by a portable electric generator and air compressor.

In addition to providing dental care, the students distributed toothbrushes, toothpastes, floss and educational material.

Kelsey Marvin, who made her second trip to Nicaragua, said, “this time we got our own patients and were more actively involved since it was our second year.”

The pace was faster than what typically takes place in a U.S. dental office.

“I saw 16 patients and assisted in 30 fillings. It was go, go, go. It was incredible,” said Amanda Motsinger. “I learned how to communicate with the doctor even without an interpreter.”

Marvin said the experience was humbling.

“They were so grateful for what they were receiving. It took hours to get to them but they were the ones apologizing for the condition of their teeth,” she said.

“They don’t take things for granted there. I want to carry that compassion for patients back here. I want to be a more compassionate student.”

Steve Koehler is coordinator of media relations at Ozarks Technical Community College.

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