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Local dentist, staff travel long way to relieve some toothaches
This was the second time for Dr. Greg Williams and some members of his staff to travel to Peru to provide emergency dental work
Being a dentist can be an adventure - especially when you're pulling teeth from a patient who is lying on a pew in a church with a dirt floor.
'It's a totally different type of dentistry,' said Dr. Greg Williams, a King City dentist, who went with a small team and several of his staff members to villages in Peru for 10 days this summer to provide emergency dentistry.
'In a Third World country, everybody has a toothache,' Williams said.
In the U.S. dentists have X-rays and give thorough exams to determine which tooth is the source of pain and the best method to fix it. In Peru, the process is less technological.
'The problems are so severe - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see which tooth with pus coming out of it needs to come out,' Williams said.
Members of Williams' dental team didn't have the convenience of reliable power and equipment.
'In a Third World country, it's unknown if the equipment or power will even work,' Williams said. 'It's kind of fun to see how well you can make things work.'
Making things work included converting an old church and a schoolhouse into a dental clinic. The limited resources meant using church pews and army cots as makeshift dentistry chairs.
'Yeah, I don't normally work in huts and school houses,' said Dr. Scott Dyer, a Tualatin prosthodontist, who also went on the Peru trip.
The worst conditions they faced, however, were with the jungle tribes, Williams said, because there was no electricity.
'Any expectations of life that we have here (in the United States) cannot be expected there,' said Dan Webb, Williams' office manager and a member of the dentistry team. 'Sometimes you worked until the sun went down and sometimes that was your limit for light.'
The team's emergency dentistry mission was coordinated through Southern Cross Humanitarian, a nonprofit organization that provides help to poverty-stricken villages in Peru. The team saw patients in the high Andean villages of Huayllabamba and Pampacorral and in the low-lying jungles of Peurto Maldonado, Infierno and at the primitive Amaracayre tribe located deep in the jungle.
Williams said he usually saw between 20 and 25 patients a day, and the visits didn't include complete checkups, just simple procedures.
'We did mostly extractions and fillings,' Williams said. 'That's about all we could do.'
This was the second year for Williams to participate in the emergency dental-care team. The first year, Williams said he remembers looking out on the long line of village people who were waiting to be seen and wondering, 'How are we possibly going to see all these people?'
'It changes the operator. That's the reason I went back this year. People who go like it. It changes the way you look at things,' Williams said.
Charissa Griffith, a dental assistant for Williams, laughed remembering how the dental staff continually would look out the huts' glassless windows and see children scrambling for a better view of the dentists and their tools.
'The doorways were filled with kids,' Griffith said. 'It was always neat to see.'
Most of the children had never even seen a dentist before, Williams said.
'The hardest part about what we do is when we have to look at an 8-year-old and pull out their permanent teeth. In the U.S., you never would have seen that. I can't think of a time when I pulled out a child's molar because it was rotting,' Williams said.
At an orphanage, the dental team saw about 150 children lined up waiting to be seen, and Williams says they all had problems with their teeth.
But aside from the living conditions and the poor oral hygiene, team members agreed that the people they helped were rich in generosity.
'They literally had nothing. They were the poorest of the poor, and still they had a good spirit,' Dyer noted.
Webb agreed adding, 'It was amazing the level of humanity these people demonstrated.'
When the group visited the orphanage, they were greeted by children dressed in colorful clothes and hats who danced and danced and danced. Williams said he eventually had to ask them to stop so that the team could get to work.
Williams, Griffith, Webb and Dyer all have plans to go back.
'Having done it twice, I'm kind of hooked,' Webb said. 'In the end, it's hard not to go.'