Dental Brigade brings smiles to Nicaraguan people

By Kassidy Christensen

March 9, 2017 11:06 AM

IT'S THE TOOTH Dr. Erik Johnson, left, and Dr. Nekky Jamal, right, stand next to a water well they inaugurated while in Nicaragua on a dental brigade trip. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Two dentists from Wayside Dental Centre took their expertise to Nicaragua for an annual dental/eyecare brigade trip.
Through the dental clinic and the Edmonton-based charity Change For Children, Dr. Nekky Jamal and Dr. Erik Johnson traveled to Leon in northwestern Nicaraguan to perform dental work on the local people.
The trip was two-fold and the pair, along with their team of two other dentists, three dental students and several volunteers, also inaugurated a water well through the Quench campaign to aid with the severe draught in the area.
Dr. Jamal said he considers going on the trip as just doing his part.
“We go to Nicaragua and go to communities that don’t have any water because there is a severe draught there, and just the connection for me as a dentist is if I can bring these people water, I can help fix their teeth and make them healthier as a whole,” he said.
Jamal said he and Johnson saw about 120 people per day over the 10-day trip, and ended up pulling at least 600 or 700 teeth.
“We’re doing mainly extractions but we do bring demo units to do fillings and stuff too.
“Everyone gets a toothbrush and we try focus on prevention, but a lot of the problems are with education and whatever food they have they eat,” Jamal said.
Many of the dental issues arise from the foods available in the area, Jamal said, also stating “there are tons of sugar cane fields around there.”
“You see kids chewing all day on sugar cane … (it’s) what makes their teeth rot,” he said.
Johnson echoed the concern over local diets and said sugar and carbonated drinks, especially Coca Cola, are everywhere.
“A lot of times it’s cheaper than water, of course when you don’t have a whole lot of money you’re going to spend the money that you do have on Coke or Pepsi, cause it is cheaper than water,” Johnson said.
On this particular trip, three optometrists joined the dental brigade to give donated prescription glasses to locals and perform eye care exams. 
For Jamal, a bright spot of the trip for him was having the optometrists come to care for the locals, and felt blessed and lucky the optometrists joined.
“I’ve always valued going to the optometrist, being someone who wears glasses, but I think I underestimated the amount of health, eye health, that is required down there,” Jamal said.
“Everyone is under severe sunrays 90 per cent of the year, and it was shocking to see how many ocular problems people had in comparison to people up here.”
On top of the 600 or 700 dental patients, an additional 500 to 700 people were cared for by the optometrists, Jamal explained.
Now that the two dentists have returned to Canadian life, Johnson said he finds he takes the little things for granted.
“You just realize how you just have your sink and you turn on the tap and you’ve got clean water right out of your tap … As far as nutrition, we’ve got everything you need if you just go to the grocery store,” he said.
Jamal expressed how lucky he feels at home, and that it is quite humbling.
“Our main problems are so different than the basic problems of life that people face in rural areas of Nicaragua, he said.
“We’re focused on getting an oil change for our car or affording that extra whatever …  people down there are just focused on feeding their families and getting water for the day.”
The two said the support from the Lloydminster community for their dental brigade trip was incredible.
“Lots of people are donating money and supplies and it’s incredible how much support we get,” Jamal said.
“No matter how big or how small it is, it’s incredible to see the generosity of the Lloydminster people.
Johnson thanked the patients in Lloyd for being considerate and thoughtful because, “...we’re going down and we’re not going to be here in the clinic for the week or two weeks that we’re gone. It’s nice to know they support us and value what we’re doing down there.”
A trip to check on the water wells is planned for May, Jamal said, and hopefully another dental brigade will be travelling south in the fall or early winter of 2018.
For Johnson, this trip marked his third visit to South America to care for locals, and Jamal has been visiting since 2009, stating he has visited nine or 10 times.

More News

Learning the ways

The Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre (LNFC) is promoting culture within its youth. more »

Oilman of the year: 'That's how I roll'

Mike Baehl says the only thing that matters is “Living at my fishing camp, older whiskey and faster horses and that’s how I roll.” more »

A half-century of brooms and brews

Fifty Oilmen’s bonspiels in 50 years. That 50 in 50 record may not compare with the coveted NHL goal scoring standard of 50 goals in the first 50 games, but it’s a record that belongs solely… more »

more »