I recently traveled to Cape Verde with KIDS (Kids International Dental Services), which is a wonderful organization that brings volunteers to treat and educate children living in underserved areas around the world. KIDS is "committed to every child in the world having a smile." (Learn more about KIDS at www.kidservices.org
On this 5.5-day dental mission trip, the KIDS team examined 2,016 children, 398 of which received dental treatment. A total of 730 teeth were extracted and 86 teeth were restored with fillings.
The conditions in which treatment was provided was much different than what our patients are used to. There were no dental offices or clinics where treatment for these children occurred. We made every effort to ensure the safety and comfort of every child despite the tough working environments.
Unfortunately, many of these kids chew on sugar cane, drink sugar water, eat tons of cheap candy, do not use a toothbrush (or even have one), and have very little dental education. As a result, these children are living with numerous infected and non-restorable teeth. Many of these kids are living with dental pain on a daily basis and have little to no access to treatment. It was our goal to not only treat these children but also educate them, their teachers and their parents on proper oral hygiene and diet practices.
Each day, the KIDS team would travel around the Island of Santa Antao, Cape Verde and visit a different school. In the morning upon arrival, the team would find a classroom which would be our make-shift "clinic" for the day. All dental supplies, (including plenty of local anesthetics) were brought with us. Instead of dental chairs for the children to sit in, we used their school desks. Pillows for the children's heads would be fashioned out of dental bibs stacked in Ziplock bags.
As one can imagine, treatment days could get pretty intense for the children and the dentists. Days were long, hot and arduous. Often we would stop treatment, turn up the music and have a dance party! Other times, wearing a silly wig just to make the kids laugh was a great way to lift everyone's spirits and energy.
Cape Verde is a majestic place with the most lovely people. I felt so lucky to be a small part of improving the lives of many of the children there. I can't wait to go back!