A field report by Florian Schilling (University of Erlangen, Germany). Organization: "Zahnärzte helfen e.V."
"Just after having passed my examination und before starting a professional life, I decided to look beyond the dental doctrine and dental standards at Germany’s university hospitals. Peru was my dream destination: On the one hand, due to its culture and way of living. On the other hand, due to reports about this project and association by fellow students, who had already experienced such an adventure during their studies. The decision was taken in favour of a project in Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The German association ‘Zahnärzte helfen e.V.’ manages a dental project in Urubamba and there, cooperates with the Peruvian association ‘Corazones Para Perú’. They offer medical assistance to needy children and also to adults in remote mountain villages. Further to my donation request to different dental companies, in the weeks before my departure, I received various dental materials and instruments suitable for using them during the mission in Peru.
After landing in Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, which was the former capital of the Inca empire, I drove about one and a half hour to the town Urubamba, which would be my home base for the next three weeks. There, I lived in a shared accommodation together with three other dentists. The flat was situated upstairs in the house of a Peruvian female teacher, who took care of everything. As well as a Peruvian female dentist, employed by the association, who organizes a major part of the unscheduled campaigns and supports in case of communication difficulties. In addition, one is assisted by young people from Germany, who are doing their voluntary service and also have very good Spanish skills.
Every morning from Monday to Friday, we treated children aged between 6 and 12 years from the ‘Collegio Ccotohuincho‘, a school in Urubamba. With the aid of former equipment from the German Armed Forces and donated goods from Germany, we carried out prophylaxis treatments, fillings and extractions. The children had to bring an ‘authorization’ signed by their parents to receive a treatment. Systematically, findings of all school grades were generated, and the most urgent cases were taken care of first.
Two afternoons a week, we drove to a children village of the association ‘Corazones Para Perú’ in Munaychay. There, we focused on prophylaxis. We explained the children how to do a proper oral hygiene with the available means. Another project of the association is in Chicon. There is a small health centre, which, however, has largely ceased its activities except for the dentist’s chair.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a pickup truck started very early in the morning towards Huilloc, a mountain village located at an altitude of about 3,500 meters – the ‘highest’ place of treatment in the surroundings of Urubamba. Here, we were able to carry out root canal treatments due to X-ray equipment.
Sometimes, the association also organises unscheduled activities. After a two-hour drive to a small town, in which the Peruvian military had built supply tents at the central place, we were allowed to use one tent as an ‘Odontologia’. Because there was a large number of patients and thus, one dentist chair was not enough, we had to extract teeth or make prophylaxis treatments on simple garden chairs. But the biggest problem was, that the power supply was only functioning for a limited time and often, the right instruments were not available or not yet prepared again. Hence, the range of treatments was narrowed down to mostly prophylaxis, filling therapy and extractions.
The majority of the children shows a desolate condition of the milk teeth respectively of the first permanent teeth, partly with fistula formation already. The causes are on the one hand the constant availability of sugar in the form of sweets and beverages. On the other hand, the fact that parents are either not able to or do not want to explain their children how to brush their teeth. Compared to Europe, Early Childhood Caries appears disproportionately frequent and more pronounced. The case is different for elderly inhabitants, especially in the remote mountain villages. This is probably due to the fact, that those got in contact with sugar-containing nutrition only at a very late stage.
On weekends, we had time for several excursions to the surrounding areas. We visited Puno at Lake Titicaca, the Uru Islands, the Bolivian coastal city of Copacabana, the Rainbow Mountain, the Salt ponds of Maras, the ruins of Ollantaytambo, the Old Town of Cusco, churches, temples, places and museums, Arequipa and, of course, Machu Picchu.
The cordiality and gratitude, with which I was received everywhere in Peru, mirrors the people’s mentality. It was an honour for me to gain an insight into their culture and daily life. Since in the villages in the Andes, where never a tourist gets lost, one really gets to know Peru.
I thank VOCO GmbH for the generous support!"