Improving children's teeth, one molar at a time
Greg Williams' team goes on dental mission to Honduras
Honduras, a small, poor country in Central America with a population of more than eight million people and the highest murder rate in the world, is not exactly where one would expect to find King City dentist Greg Williams, but he was there with a dental team during the first half of April to perform thousands of dental procedures.
Williams has been doing annual dental missions for the past several years to some of the most remote places in the world, and Honduras was chosen in part because he met a dentist who is familiar with the country and could provide him with contact information.
Also, his last couple of missions were halfway around the world, and Honduras is closer to home, plus there was a good ground support system in place, and it is a Spanish-speaking country.
Williams' team, organized under his nonprofit organization, Wide Open Humanitarian, included some Spanish-speaking members and consisted of eight dentists, four dental students, three hygienists, several dental assistants and some non-trained assistants.
"We want to go where no (dental teams) have gone before and where the need is the greatest," he said.
His contact there was Margie Dip, who is Lebanese but lives in Honduras and is a senator for the region that Williams wanted to visit. She runs the Margie Foundation, which includes a healthcare clinic, and has a weekly town hall television show.
"She used her political pull to get us police escorts, and we appeared on her TV show to promote our visit and let people know we were there," Williams said.
On the mainland, they stayed near the coastal city of La Ceiba, but because of the danger, the team stayed at an eco-lodge outside of town. "There is no history of violence there, and we didn't feel threatened, but we didn't walk around at night either," he said. "Margie's clinic was too small for us to use, so we used a nearby school for two days."
In that area live native Caribbean people called Carifuna who have their own unique culture within Honduras' culture.
The second clinic operated by Williams' team was in a remote farming village, and between the two sites, the team treated 1,000 people.
No matter how far off the beaten path Williams' travels take him, he sees the negative influence of Western culture - specifically, how drinking pop causes cavities and tooth decay around the world.
"In Honduras, Coke costs one-half to one-third of what bottled water costs," he said. "If the water is bad in your area, you are going to choose Coke. People had tons of cavities, and in Honduras, the kids are given frozen flavored sugar water to suck, so we saw a lot of teeth rotting out, especially in the younger generation. If older people still have their teeth, they will keep them at that point."
For Williams, a good day working in a foreign country is filling cavities in the permanent molars of as many 6- and 12-year-olds as possible.
He explained that kids get their permanent molars at ages 6 and 12 (and third molars, also called wisdom teeth, at 18), and if cavities get filled in those teeth right away, "they will keep them 40 or 50 years or for their lifetime. If you don't do fillings at the age and wait a few more years, the teeth have to be pulled out.
"I'll do 50 in a day. That does the most good of anything I can do. I love to treat 6- and 12-year-olds."
The team also did fillings in other kids and adults plus extractions, but no root canals were done.
"We did a total of about 3,000 procedures and did more extractions in adults," Williams said. "There is only so much time. Adults would come in with all six of their top front teeth rotten. To 'fix the grill' on them would take me one hour.
"In that same hour that I did six fillings on one person, I could do the back molars on 10 people so they could keep those teeth for a lifetime. So I would tell the person with six bad teeth to pick two teeth to be fixed and then go to the back of the line."
According to Williams, at some point every day, they had to cut off the line. "Otherwise, we would have worked all night," he said. "Plus, we had to use a little psychology to leave the clinics to be home before dark. If we wanted to be done by 3:30, we would see the last patients at 2, and then more people would ask for help, and we would accommodate them, and they thought we were nice to stay longer.
"Honduras is a great place. I would go back there, but it takes a lot of work to get a whole team and all our equipment and supplies there. But we're getting better at it, and the volunteers are more experienced, so it's getting easier, and they want to go again and again."
In addition to operating clinics in a poor foreign country each year, Williams, who took two of his own kids on the Honduras trip, also does a scouting trip ahead of time. "I have a list of future places," he said. "We are thinking about Panama and Tanzania. In some ways I wish we could do more, but it's a matter of balancing time and work and money."
Before heading home, the team spent 1 ½ days on the island of Roatan, site of the world's second-largest coral reef, for some snorkeling and decompression.
On Williams' other trips, he has met people like Margie Dip who have opened clinics and helped native people in their local areas.
"There are so many good people who just want to help," he said. "We're not done yet. Everyone who goes on these trips finds a way to take the time from their jobs and come up with the money. We usually have a waiting list.
"These trips aren't for everyone. They are primitive, but anyone who can help should help in any way they can."