Local dentists plan a service trip to Guatemala in October

Providing dental care, education and home building

By Katherine Nettles

A group of 18 dentists, assistants and family members from Crested Butte Family Dental are heading to Guatemala this fall where they will bring vital services to a population that otherwise has no access to dental care. Local dentists Chelsea and Dave Stangl, their two children, two other dentists from their practice, five dental assistants, one predental student from Western Colorado University and a host of other participants’ family members will head out on a 10-day adventure to the Atitlan region of Guatemala, bringing their own supplies to help improve the lives of the people there through dentistry—and a bit of carpentry.  

The dental team is excited to travel to Guatemala to bring some much-needed dental care to a community there. “We will be bringing our own supplies and equipment and are fundraising to help cover the clinic costs, travel costs and supply and equipment costs,” the team explains on their GoFundMe page. “The hope is to give the community a service and educational information that will increase the quality of life for those who we treat.” 

Drs. Chelsea and Dave, who met during dental school in Boston, did a service trip in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador back in 2009 and have wanted to make that sort of service trip a habit ever since. “It was something that Dave and I really enjoyed. That was when we first started dating, and we had always wanted to do it again. But instead, we bought four practices and had kids and all that stuff in the last 10 years,” says Chelsea. While they had to delay those international plans for a while, they have participated in other service trips closer to home.

“Pretty much every other year we’ve done the Colorado Mission of Mercy,” says Chelsea, which is an annual two-day dental clinic providing care completely free of charge to underprivileged communities at different locations within the state.

And now the opportunity to return to international service work has come. The Union Congregational Church (UCC) embarked on a trip to the area last year through an organization called Porch de Solomon and helped build homes. The UCC kept in contact with the organization, and Chelsea and Dave got involved as well.

She said there has been some recent efforts to get the pop-up clinic space there more organized, and she wants to contribute to that in a lasting way as well. “My hope is that we can only add to that effort and that we can even leave some of the equipment and supplies down there,” says Chelsea.

The group departs on October 6, and Chelsea explains that on the first day in Atitlan, the whole group will come to the school to help set up the dental clinic. Then those who are not involved with dentistry will spend a few days building houses. “The kids on the trip will be able to participate in that as well,” says Chelsea.

Equipment, supplies and operations

The team is preparing for as many details and as thorough a clinic environment as they can create. “They have four chairs that they have made down there, which are pretty ingenious,” describes Chelsea of the pop-up clinic that Porch de Solomon can deploy at different locations. “They’re certainly not what we’re used to, but they are made out of plywood,” she says, and they allow patients to lie back while the dental team will be standing. “We stand sometimes, but it’s different ergonomics than we’re used to,” she conceded. 

With four dentists going on the trip, two of those chairs will be dedicated to doing extractions, and the other two will be used for preventative and restorative procedures, including some cleanings. 

Local veterinarian Dr. Laura Ramos has donated an ultrasonic machine for the trip, and the team will be bringing a mobile x-ray unit.

“Dave has said he will do root canals if the technology we have works well,” says Chelsea. They will also have some simple crown apparatus on hand.

Crested Butte’s Rotary District is donating $4,600 toward the purchase of two portable dental units with suction and hand pieces so they can do fillings. “The organization doesn’t have any of these,” explains Chelsea, and without these units the team would be limited to mostly cleanings and extractions. “That was important for us, to be able to do the preventative and restorative work,” she says.  

Raising funds and collecting books 

In addition to in-kind donations such as those made by the Rotary and Dr. Ramos, the team has so far raised $3,000 toward their $12,000 goal to cover the costs of team members, supplies and equipment.

The team will also bring anesthetics and antibiotics, and the UCC is supplying a large number of donated toothbrushes. Other supplies Chelsea is hoping to collect are Beanie Baby-sized stuffed animals (easy to pack) that they can hand out to the children they treat, and educational books in Spanish. 

The team is also eager to gather creative ideas to solve some of the unique problems this project presents. The team has estimated that it will take between eight and ten hours to sterilize everything each day using a pressure cooker. And one of the biggest constraints will be water, since the team will be limited to what they can bring in with them. 

“I am looking for any ideas of how to quickly, effectively sanitize water to use with our dental units,” says Chelsea. “I’m open to hearing from anyone who has ideas around water. Otherwise, that is going to be a limiting factor in how much work we can do.”

She says the whole team is excited about the opportunity, and one team member will be leaving the country for the first time to make the trip. And as with any international travel, she recognizes that there will be some surprises along the way. “Flexibility will be key,” she says.

“It’s going to be an awesome trip, and Lake Atitlan is supposed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world…I can’t wait to see it.”  

The GoFundMe site can be found at https://gofund.me/17941851

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