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Back to basics

Pediatric residency trip to Honduras

Drs. Kristy Hayes and Diane Tung,
both pediatric dentistry residents,
traveled to Siguatepeque, Honduras,
during spring break, where they treated
more than 100 patients.

Photo courtesy Dr. Kristy Hayes

Access to radiographs and surgical handpieces is standard practice for extractions and cleanings in most locales. But in this isolated Honduran village, two pediatric dentistry residents had to get resourceful.

When it comes to permanent-tooth extractions, there are a few essentials for the practicing dentist, including access to X-rays when diagnosing a patient’s condition. And for many dental procedures, the surgical handpiece is a modern-day “must have.” But not when you’re in Siguatepeque, Honduras.

During the marathon workdays pediatric dentistry residents Drs. Kristy Hayes and Diane Tung spent treating patients in the secluded mountain village, they had a few basics on which to rely: field dental chairs, head lamps, cold sterilization and basic instrumentation. They were fortunate to have running water and electricity, which helped.

“In a few specific cases, we had to be resourceful with the equipment that we had and trust our diagnostic capabilities beyond radiographs,” says Hayes. “It was nerve-racking at times, but satisfying in the end when we were able to use basic skills and equipment to remove the tooth.”

By week’s end, the pair had treated approximately 125 patients, many who traveled for hours just to have their teeth cleaned or, when necessary, extracted. Hayes and Tung, both second-year residents, traveled to Siquatepeque with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas. It’s a yearly tradition for the pediatric dentistry department.

Tung and Hayes weren’t the only health care professionals to make the trek to the village. Two physicians and nurses and a nurse practitioner went with them, and to round out the health care services, a pharmacist and several volunteers dispensed vitamins, blood pressure medication and antibiotics as needed.

The days began at 8 a.m. in the clinic, which was set up at a local church. The first order of business was morning prayer.

“We would exchange the sign of peace and it would literally go on for several minutes until we had hugged or shaken the hand of almost every other person,” says Hayes. “The people were just so warm and welcoming.”

The rest of each day was spent treating patients. Cleanings and extractions stretched on until 5:30 p.m., with a 20-minute break for lunch squeezed in when there was time.

For Tung, the experience reiterates the importance of education in preventing dental disease.

“While we were able to provide a service by relieving dental pain with extractions, what is really most needed is education and coaching in preventive dentistry,” Tung says. “This is a universal concept that especially applies to the pediatric population that we treat in our program.”