October 22, 2012
After going to Haiti last year to provide dental care, UWSoD student Inna Piskorska could have rested on her laurels; after all, not many perform that kind of humanitarian work while still in school. Instead, she started planning a second, larger outing.
This time, the diminutive Ukranian immigrant set her sights on Jamaica, organizing a group of 24 that included second, third and fourth year UW students, recent graduates, and additional volunteers willing to devote part of their summer break to providing free dentistry to the people of Jamaica. The program is run by Great Shape, Inc., and matches volunteers with areas in need on the island. Piskorska’s group worked in three different clinics in Negril, on the western-most tip of the island.
Throughout the country, the need is great —with only 35 dentists in a population of 2.8 million people, dentistry is for the wealthy — the remaining 80-90 percent of the population depend on public health system clinics staffed by dental nurses, with indirect supervision by a dentist. As a result, fewer than 10 percent of children and 1 percent of adults get to see an actual dentist.
The economics of a smile
Tourism is a driving force on the island, and without a knockout smile, residents aren’t likely to be hired into the industry. While in Haiti, there was no time for restorative work, it was important in Jamaica— but still a little tricky. “Without x-rays, restorations involved some guesswork,” said Piskorska, “We could never be sure we were going to be able to save the tooth until we got underway. Thankfully, we usually could.” She and the other volunteers performed a mix of extractions, anterior restorations and sealants, doing their part to help those with severe anterior decay get their smiles back — and just maybe, a place in the tourism market.
A common language
Communication with Jamaicans was vastly simpler because most speak and understand English well, even though they have a distinct dialect. By adding a few common local phrases into their conversations, the volunteers were able to get to the root of the problem even faster: Wa a gwaan? (What’s going on?), jook (injection), cocaine-anesthetic (lidocaine), heavy (numb), and shaky (loose tooth), soon became part of their lexicon. Piskorska says, “Even with regional language differences, we were able to have conversations with patients without an interpreter, and talk about things like soccer UFA finals, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. I would let kids listen to my iPod during my procedures to help them relax.”
With the language barrier largely absent, the volunteers were also able to teach caries prevention, and provide patients with information about oral hygiene and risk factors, in the hope that they could help to eliminate or decrease decay.
Making relaxation part of the equation
Unlike Haiti, where Piskorska and the other volunteers lived in dorm-style housing provided by the local missionaries, the Jamaican crew lived on the beach in resort housing provided by the Sandals Resort Foundation, a sponsor of the program. Piskorska blogged “After a hard day in the clinic, we spend time together on the beach, playing water or beach volleyball, swimming, relaxing, and interacting with local people. It’s a rejuvenating time for everyone, and it helps us prepare for the next day.” But while the digs were much more comfortable than in Haiti, Piskorska and her fellow humanitarians still provided hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in free dentistry to the people of the Caribbean island.
Our hats are off to Piskorska for organizing the successful venture, and to all those who gave so selflessly of their free time. Additionally, Piskorska would like to thank the supervising dentists for their support and sharing their knowledge: Dr. Sherwin Shinn, Dr. Ron Guttu and Dr. Jeffrey Dow; and the sponsors who donated supplies that helped make the trip possible: Patterson Dental Supply, Inc., Burkhart Dental Supply, Densply, Dr. Sakuma, Colgate, Hu-Friedy, Danville, and Garrison!