Students provide dental care to poor in Nicaragua

Six Pennsylvania College of Technology students and two faculty members traveled to Nicaragua to provide dental care to a group of indigent children.

The Penn College group comprised dental hygiene: health policy and administration students Maria A. Bova of Bethlehem, Joni K. Brickner of Carlisle; Mallory L. David of Altoona; Gina L. Everhart of Lancaster; Teresa A. McBreen of Malvern; and Laura L. Taylor of Hanover; as well as Mary Jo Saxe, associate professor of dental hygiene; and Rhonda J. Seebold, part-time instructor of dental hygiene.

According to Saxe, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with half its population under the age of 16. Seventy-four percent of the population lives in poverty.

During the weeklong stay in mid-May, the group provided dental care to children at La Escuelita, a school in the devastated area of Managua hit by an earthquake in 1972.

"The area of the school was declared uninhabitable, but over the last 30 years, those seeking to work and a chance to survive have moved into the area," Saxe said. "The children who are enrolled at this school cannot afford to attend the public school since they cannot afford to buy uniforms, school supplies and books."

The Penn College contingent was accompanied by Canadian dentist Martin Shelly and his wife, Mary, and dental hygienist Marilyn Frankel. Under the supervision of Alicia Reyes, a Nicaraguan dentist, the dental group spent four days providing oral-hygiene instructions, prophylaxis, sealants, fluoride varnish, restorations and extractions.

They treated 57 children from La Escuelita and seven adults. Each of the children received individual oral-hygiene instructions with assistance from an interpreter. The professionals also presented dental-education programs to the teachers of La Escuelita so they may reinforce the oral-health information presented throughout the year.

Penn College and local dentists donated the dental supplies, and Brickner raised funds to purchase a portable suction unit that Saxe said was extremely valuable to the group's activities.

The students, who arrived in Managua on May 9, were hosted by the Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches, which housed the group as well as provided all meals, interpreters, transportation and educational programs.

The experience included a historical tour of Managua, opportunities to shop and purchase local souvenirs at open markets and a Fair Trade cooperative, and a tourist day at Lake Nicaragua in Grenada. Lake Nicaragua is the second-largest lake in Latin America and has more than 400 volcanic islands.

“The students enjoyed a scenic boat ride on Lake Nicaragua, where they witnessed the clashing cultures of poverty and wealth on neighboring islands,” Saxe said.

Before leaving, the group attended a final ceremony at La Escuelita, where the teachers thanked the dental professionals for the services, education and care they delivered during their stay.

"The students left with an increased awareness of global poverty, the role of volunteer services, and the ability to adapt and deliver optimum care in an improvised clinical setting," Saxe said. "Most importantly, the group left with new friendships and an appreciation of life."

For more information about dental hygiene and other academic programs offered by the School of Health Sciences at Penn College, visit online or call (570) 327-4519. To learn more about Penn College, visit online, send e-mail  or call toll-free (800) 367-9222.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009