April 27, 2010
A team of Army Reserve (Southern Command) doctors, dentists, nurses and support staff flew to Panama last week to conduct free clinics in the Cocle Province, about 8 hours by bus from our house. Two weeks ago 4 or 5 other volunteers assisted in the translations. This past week there were fewer so I went then instead.
I worked with the optometrist and the dentists. The former needed assistance with the distance exams. The biggest challenge was hearing the people talk, as many of them spoke in very soft voices, mumble, or both. Some of them tried to tell me about their vision problems, thinking I needed to know, but the test told us what we were looking for.
Working with the dentists gave me a close up view of the dental problems here. As there are relatively few dentists and the vast majority of the people do not have the money to pay, most people do not get preventative care. On this trip the dentists could only do exams and extractions since they did not have a complete set-up so cleanings and fillings were out of the question.
I interviewed people as they came in to find out what the problems were. I looked in a lot of scary mouths. Decay is common, caused by a high sugar diet (causing type 2 diabetes as well) and lack of care, leading to large cavities, pain, and the loss of teeth.
There were many with serious bone loss for lack of brushing and regular cleanings, and no one here uses floss, all leading to plaque and the development of dental pockets where bacteria grow, eating away at the bone. This gum loss produces snaggly teeth that decay, break and just plain fall out for lack of anything to hold onto. I know all this because I inherited a proclivity for all of these problems.
On the last evening the mayor of Penonome gave a party for the soldiers, to which they invited us. A Panamanian woman invited me to dance with her, which was a lot of fun. We did a salsa of sorts, and then I danced with another woman and we did the merengue. They were both good dancers.