The UNC Dental Mexico Project

 

Since 1987, dental students from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry have participated in a unique educational and service opportunity as part of the UNC Dental Mexico Project. This project combines an intensive seminar on health services in a developing country with a dental volunteer service project at a very large, rural Mexican orphanage. The academic portion of this project in Mexico City was founded under the leadership of Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez-Galvan, a professor of dentistry and public health at the University of Mexico (U.N.A.M.). Students directly experience various components of the Mexican health care delivery system and have clinical rotations in three dental programs associated with hospitals or maternal-child treatment centers. The information and exposures have been useful in understanding how health systems work and how developing nations cope with scarce medical and dental resources.

 

 

 

The second component of the UNC Mexico Dental Project is the annual program at the Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos Orphanage. This orphanage, located near Cuernevaca, in the small village of Miacatlan, houses nearly 1000 orphans. One part-time dentist serves this entire community as a volunteer, Dr. Maria Carmen. The purpose of our project was to assist the dentist by administering basic and preventive dental care in the form of cleaning teeth, application of fluoride and dental sealants, educating the children on prevention and nutrition, and performing dental fillings and restorative care if needed. The dental students see as many children as possible each day under the supervision of the orphanage dentist. They present oral hygiene instruction, a tooth brush, and floss to each child in a classroom setting.

 

 

The opportunity to make even a small difference in the lives of these children is very exciting to us. During the time at the orphanage, dental students live in the orphans' dormitory and eat meals in their dining room. This component of our project allows us to develop a personal feeling for the needs of high risk children in a developing nation. The warm and caring relationships formed have affected all of the dental students who preceded us in this project. For the dental students who went to Mexico this past summer, the experience exceeded all expectations. Nothing was more gratifying than to hear a child exclaim "My Dentista", combining English and Spanish in a special attempt to communicate affection.

While this is clearly a student generated and managed project, the project has had great faculty advisors assiting the project when needed. Dr. Ronald P. Strauss served as Faculty Advisor from inception in 1987 until 2009. He made many of the arrangements for our academic and clinical experiences and assists in guiding the project. Dr. John Tiffee became Faculty Advisor in 2009 and has continued to help make this a very successful endeavor for both the students and the children at the orphanage. Dr. Tiffee can be reached at john_tiffee@dentistry.unc.edu with any questions.

The success of this endeavor is a product of the uncompensated labor of the dental students and the generosity of the area residents, businesses, dentists, dental manufacturers and dental suppliers. The project receives no direct state funds, and all expenses have been met with contributions and by pizza sales, door-to-door solicitations, and gifts of dental supplies. All donations to the student project have been approved by the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry to be tax deductible.

In July of this year ten dental students will again leave for nearly a month in Mexico. This self-initiated journey will be funded by the students and will be an educational as well as a service-oriented experience. This endeavor has been a success for the past ten years and the people of Mexico City and Micatlan look forward to the visit each summer. The dental students are committed to community service and to continuing the Mexico Project.

"I have been so impressed with the integrity and commitment of the wonderful students who organize and conduct the UNC Mexico Project. They are devoted to serving people with unmet health needs and demonstrate a high degree of initiative and caring."
-Dr. Ronald P. Strauss Professor and Founding Mexico Project Faculty Advisor