In August 2017, Dr. Annette Schoof-Hosemann set off for what would be her eighth dental aid mission in Bolivia, practically a routine occurrence now.
This time, she was accompanied by three dental students from the University of Giessen: Tobias Kleinert, Alexandra Krumb and Stephanie Kokoschka.
Together, the team headed for the first time to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a metropolitan area with a population of more than one million. This was where their workplace for the next few weeks would be. A tiny, windowless room with old dental instruments no longer functioning properly in a paediatric clinic in the poorest neighbourhood of Santa Cruz: Los Lotes. Thanks to the financial support of the association dentists and friends, the room had recently been renovated and the equipment awakened from its Sleeping Beauty coma. It might not have been up to the usual standards in Germany, but with a little improvisation it was still possible to work satisfactorily.
There had been a large publicity campaign in Los Lotes, the result being that there were already long queues of patients awaiting them when the team arrived for its first day of free treatments. The three students were shocked by the desperate state of the patients’ dentition, but for Dr. Annette Schoof-Hosemann, who was in Bolivia for the eighth time, it was practically a familiar sight. She quickly informed them that they would come across far, far worse dental situations. After all, toothbrushes aren’t available to buy everywhere.
The team of four worked side-by-side together for a whole week in Santa Cruz: in 88 patients, they extracted 35 teeth and placed 75 fillings. After this exhausting but successful stay in Santa Cruz, the team continued on to Altiplano, at an altitude of almost 4,000 metres.
In La Paz, on the way to Lake Titicaca, the travellers stocked up on much-needed dental consumables for the practice in Challa such as gloves, face masks, disinfectants, painkillers and antibiotics. Of course, they couldn’t not buy teeth-cleaning utensils for oral hygiene classes in the schools either: all told, space was found in the luggage for another 500 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. After the shopping trip, the team travelled on approximately 140 km to Lake Titicaca and then took the ferry over to the tiny community of Challa. Whilst Santa Cruz is overrun by tropical heat and the hustle and bustle of a city numbering more than a million inhabitants, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the impressive natural beauty everywhere on the island.
The team taught more than 500 children in two of the three schools in Challa and the even higher village of Yumani about the importance of proper daily oral hygiene. This involved explaining the causes of caries, distributing toothbrushes, cleaning teeth together and then fluoridizing with Voco Fluoridin N5.
As Dr. Annette Schoof-Hosemann has been visiting these schools regularly since 2013, it is the fifth time the pupils have been able to make the most of the preventative measures. They are always extremely happy to see the “doctora” and the team can hardly give out the teeth-cleaning instruments fast enough. Unfortunately, their teeth are still in an atrocious state. Hardly any patients are completely free from caries; in fact, many children and young adults have barely got a single healthy tooth left in their mouths. For the German students, this came as quite a shock. The fact that sparse, completely destroyed dentition is actually more the normal state of affairs for young people was a revelation that both shook and deeply affected them.
However, initial improvements are already being seen, especially with regard to the interest shown in having teeth checked and cleaned. In fact, the team was positively overrun by schoolchildren. However, to ensure they had the chance to get to the truly urgent cases – the extractions – the dentists came up with a cunning plan: a present from the rewards box. The prospect of a present from the box almost triggered a stampede among the children.
As the mission drew to a close, the team was able to report not only having performed the desired cleaning but also treated 88 patients successfully with fillings and extractions.
Dr. Annette Schoof-Hosemann is affectionately known on the island as la doctorita (= little doctor). After all the hard work, the patients’ gratitude is a gift beyond measure for her and more than makes up for all the efforts involved.
VOCO supported this mission by donating various dental supplies including the restorative materials Grandio and Grandio Flow, the adhesive Futurabond DC and the calcium hydroxide preparation Calcicur. Interestingly, the most common tooth shade in Bolivia is A2.