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A dental mission to Guatemala

Hundreds of kids have better teeth thanks to LOs David Streiff


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - David Streiff, left, and his assistant Mitchell Wilson brought a big smile to the face of this little Guatemalan girl.  After practicing dentistry for more than 20 years, Dr. David Streiff of Lake Oswego wanted to do something more.

That “something” was to accompany 15 colleagues (known as Los Romeritos or The Hugs) on a medical mission to Guatemala, an impoverished nation in Central America where good dental health is practically unknown.

“When you’ve been a dentist as long as I have you need to change things up once in awhile,” Streiff said. “It’s nice to give kids a smile.”

Putting a smile on faces there is not easy. Streiff just got back from his third medical mission to Guatemala and he detected no improvement at all in the condition of the Guatemalan people. The nation is a sugary society that is practically a perfect example of how NOT to achieve dental health. In an appalling comparison, Streiff pointed out that Lake Oswego has 57 dentists to serve a population of 35,000. Santa Catarina Mita, the city where Streiff helped set up the small dental clinic, has one dentist to serve a population of 10,000.

“The level of poverty in Central America is incredible,” Streiff said. “Kids live on less than $2 a day. They have a very poor diet that relies heavily on soft drinks, and most of the kids have never seen a dentist. There is no fluoride in the water and no toothpaste. If there was a repair problem I had to do it myself. Here I just call a repairman.

“You can get discouraged at the amount of gum disease. You might say what we’re doing is a drop in the bucket. We wish we could convince them to drink fewer soft drinks and to put in a clean water supply. But this is very difficult politically. It is a very conservative culture. They can’t even trust their own water.”

Streiff’s first mission to Guatemala was a near disaster, starting with no electricity.

“On the first trip we had a problem with a hand piece,” he said. “It was the only one we had. If we ran short of material we were just out of luck. We wore headlamps on our heads because there were no lights. We really had to go back to the basics to help them out.”

Never has it been more difficult for Streiff to practice his profession. Still, he is far from discouraged.

“Every time we go I think we’re gaining,” Streiff said of the specific region he has been working.

His third trip to Guatemala was not the charm, but it was definitely much better. The first time the Los Romeritos were plagued by equipment problems. But on their trip in February they picked the largest school in the area to set up a portable dental clinic. The dentists showed up to find that the school hadn’t had any electricity in three months. But this time they brought a compressor and a generator, so they were in the dental business.

“We worked on hundreds and hundreds of teeth,” Streiff said.”This time we really worked on prevention to help the kids. Our goal was to preserve their adult teeth as much as possible. Even first graders had extensive tooth decay.

“Kids were very happy, although there were a few who were phobic because of previous experiences with a dentist.”

Streiff was working for free, so his remuneration was in smiles of kids whose teeth were saved. Streiff plans to save a lot more.

“The next time we come we’re going to bring a whole lot of toothpaste and toothbrushes,” he said.

Streiff and his colleagues not only offer their services at no charge, they even raise most of the money for their trip.

“Primarily we raise our own money,” Streiff said, “with things like garage sales.”

Those interested in donating money, equipment or garage sale items to Los Romeritos should call Dr. Streiff’s office at Alder Dental Group at 503-431-3200.



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  • 29 Aug 2014

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