Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Giving the gift of smiles

Ketchum dentist donates services in Guatemala

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum dentist Dr. Jim Hodge shows photos from his recent work in Guatemala, where he performed pro-bono dentistry on villagers who live along a remote river. Photo by David N. Seelig

Ketchum dentist Dr. Jim Hodge and his wife, Sheri, recently volunteered for five days in Guatemala attending to the dental needs of Mayan and Hispanic people who live beyond the reaches of modern health care.

Their trip to Central America took them to a rural community near the east coast of Guatemala, far from the state-of-the-art conveniences of Ketchum, where Hodge, 67, has been practicing dentistry since 1990.

The Hodges were invited by longtime friend and dental school classmate Ronald Faia, a Carmel, Calif., dentist and organizer of International Health Emissaries, a nonprofit organization formed to provide health care to indigenous people around the world. The organization plugs in volunteers like the Hodges with local clinics and schools in Guatemala, Cambodia, Argentina and Peru.

"I've been asking Ron to take me for 20 years and he finally said, 'Lets go to Guatemala,'" Hodge said.

"It was challenging under the conditions. It was no picnic. In Ketchum we do the most beautiful dentistry we can with the best supplies we can get. We did not have the best equipment or supplies, but we were working under some of the more luxurious of Third World situations."

The Hodges joined two other dentists and their spouses in a rural area on the Rio Dulce, a five-hour drive from Guatemala City. They worked out of an established clinic, and spent nights in thatched-roof huts along the water.

Sheri helped organize donations of shoes and clothing for the villagers, who came by boat from villages along the river. The shoes and clothing were dispensed as rewards for having come to the clinic for treatment.

The patients were also given instruction on maintaining good dental hygiene.

"The younger generation is making changes in terms of dental health," Hodge said.

Hodge said challenges to dental health in Guatemala include the sugar in soft drinks and other dietary problems.

"In our world there is flouride in our city water supplies and in our toothpaste," he said.

In five days, the dentists and their helpers treated about 150 patients, extracting teeth, filling cavities and in some cases performing root canals.

"There were amazingly few infections," Hodge said. "They were great patients. They were grateful, but not demonstrably so. They came out of the jungle in pain and had to wait a few hours to be seen."

Hodge said the donated procedures would have cost about $70,000 in Ketchum, but in Guatemala the rewards were other than financial.

"It's rewarding to know you have helped someone improve their lives and their health, knowing that you have brought something to them they may have not been able to get otherwise," he said.

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