Dentists take on Peruvian mission

A Cayman dental team plans to use a mixture of expertise and prayer to educate Peruvians about the need for healthy teeth.

Cayman dental team

The Cayman dental team works by flashlight in Peru.
Photo: Submitted

The team is planning a November trip to the Amazon to pick up where they left off last year.

About 160 patients received dental treatments and the team extracted about 350 teeth.

The trip buoyed Dentist Bert Thacker and some of his staff plan to return to Peru to help more people and provide a greater range of free dental services.

Dental hygienist Christine Kladitis was part of the original group and said their initial experience will help improve the next visit.

Team members saw patients in five different cities last year, but lost a lot of time on travelling to each location.

‘This year, we will go to just two cities so we can see more patients. We will be able to set up a clinic in one place for three days instead of visiting one clinic every other day,’ she said.

Almost everyone at Dr. Thacker’s Cayman dental clinic wants to go to Peru.

‘We had such a good time. We saw what the need was and saw we could do the job and were good at it. We worked very well together as a team, considering our surroundings – no water, no electricity, no toilets – and considering the stress of dealing with the poverty ourselves. We got along really, really well,’ she said.

The team, which also included assistants Kristine Henriksen and Jennifer Person, had to take everything they needed with them.

‘We brought our own needles, anaesthesia, instruments, gauze, antibiotics and masks. We gave toothbrushes to every patient. When we left we gave away all of the disposable items,’ she said.

At times, Dr. Thacker relied on other, more ethereal resources to help his patients.

‘Whenever we had a difficult extraction, Dr. Thacker would bring over a minister to say a prayer and the patients really appreciated that gesture,’ Mrs. Kladitis said.

The team also took all the personal supplies they needed; everything from food and water to toilet paper.

The first trip was a long time in coming, Mrs. Kladitis said.

‘We were talking about it for about a year. Dr. Thacker kept pushing us to do charity work. We wanted to contact someone who had done it before so we would know how to deal with such things as customs on the equipment and how to sterilise without any water or electricity.

‘In the end, we just said we’d do it the simplest way possible and see what happened and it worked perfectly,’ she said.

Peru became the obvious choice to help.

‘My dad had done missionary work there for the last 20 years. He is fluent in Spanish, and knew the people and cities. He took care of all the internal flights and hotels, the venues to work out of, local volunteers and advertised for it as well.

‘Most of his missionary work was done in very poor areas and he spoke with ministers and they said to please let us come, they have lots of need for dentists.

‘Dr. Thacker then treated all of us, including my father, to a trip to Macchupicchu, so it worked out well,’ she said.

Dr. Thacker paid for all the flights and food, but to make the trip to Peru a regular occurrence, the team will need outside help. The cost of the trip was about US$15,000, which did not include the loss of business because of reduced staff in Cayman.

He met with Rotary Sunrise recently to discuss the need.

‘Rotary International is willing to fund us as long as we can get a hold of Rotary Clubs in Peru who can help us,’ Dr. Thacker said.

The team has hooked up with a Rotarian who lives in a town called Iquitos, near the Amazon. He will try to contact the local Rotary chapter for assistance.

‘On our first trip, we did a reconnaissance mission throughout the country. We realised we should break it into two trips. March is the high-water season so we can get farther into the jungle by boat and help some really needy people.

‘Between $8,000 and $12,000 should cover each trip. We could get pretty good deals on dental supplies from other dentists,’ he said.

Once funding is secured, the group will be able to plan two trips every year.

He said the group performed about 70 extractions a day in the Amazon compared to about two a day in his office in Cayman.

‘Partly because we had a well-experienced staff, we were able to work like that. My own staff knows by which way my eyebrow moves what I need,’ Dr. Thacker said.

The group hopes to provide a more comprehensive service on the next trip, Mrs. Kladitis explained.

‘We don’t want to just do extractions. We want to be able to do more. We will get a portable dentist chair with a generator. We can hook up a compressor to the generator so we can offer more choices of dentistry, which include fillings, cleanings and extractions. That’s our goal.

‘We also want to provide more extensive preventive education. Their eating habits are poor and they don’t brush their teeth. We want to teach them how to keep their teeth. We don’t want them to feel that getting their teeth extracted is a normal part of aging,’ she said.

Any additional money raised can be used to help the Peruvians receive private care.

‘If we have extra money we can use it to help local people see private dentists where they would be able to get work done that we’re unable to do such as root canals, crowns and bridges.

‘With as little as $1,000 we can probably help as many as 25 people save a tooth. In Cayman, $1,000 would pay for one crown,’ she said.

The rewards were clearly two-way, Dr. Thacker said.

‘It was so much fun. It was an adventure. I passionately love doing dental work. To be able to provide it to people who can’t afford it and see all of their appreciation is unbelievable,’ he said.


For information on how to help or to make a donation for the Peru trip, contact Christine Kladitis at 949-7303.

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