January 15, 2008

Case Western Reserve University dental medicine student helps relieve children's pain in Guatemala

Blake Rosacker volunteers with the Himalayan Dental Relief Project

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Seeing children in pain from a toothache makes Blake Rosacker, a second-year Case Western Reserve University dental student, jump into action. Recently he made a number of children feel better during a 10-day volunteer mission with the Himalayan Dental Relief Project to San Martin Jilotepeque in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala.

Rosacker, from Greenwood Village, Co., was part of a 14-member group of four dentists, one hygienist and nine lay volunteers. They set up a dental clinic and camp in a local school where children were provided care and oral health education about how to keep their teeth healthy.

"The most rewarding aspect about the trip was being able to work with the kids," said Rosacker. "I found them to be so genuine, and it was great to provide a helpful service to them."

The trip provided some challenges in that Rosacker speaks only a little Spanish, but others in the group helped with the interpretation. Also periodic power outages slowed operations, but the group was able to see 336 children and provide 106 cleanings and 263 restorations and extractions in the five days they were in the village.

Setting up a dental clinic in a school is not new for Rosacker, a student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. He has visited Cleveland's schools as part of the dental school's community outreach and oral health education initiative to reach thousands of school children through the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program. The Healthy Smiles program has traveling dental clinics that are set up in school cafeterias and libraries. Case Western Reserve dental students provide dental examinations, seal permanent molars and refer children to an area dentist or clinic when more extensive dental services are needed.

Rosacker, who was interested in volunteering on a mission, contacted the American Dental Association, who sent him a booklet on volunteer opportunities. Through information received, he learned about the Himalayan Dental Relief Project, a nonprofit group established in 2000, to provide free dental care and oral health education to impoverished children and families of Nepal, India and selected locations in Vietnam and Guatemala. The group's mission is to return every two years and continue care for the children seen through the project.

The Himalayan Project teamed up with the local nonprofit organization Behrhorst Partners for Development that provides basic health and education services to 60 indigenous villages.

Rosacker's interest in doing a mission outside the United States was inspired by his participation in the Semester at Sea program while an undergraduate at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"We traveled throughout the Pacific, and my eyes were opened to the disparities in our world," he said. "Since then I have wanted to go back and give more of my time and abilities to help others."

Rosacker has seen the "immense" difference that the volunteer mission can make. "Children would come in screaming in pain from an abscessed tooth, and we were able to take away their pain and keep them safe from infection," he said.

"Unfortunately, in Guatemala the children have picked up the high-sugar diet of the American culture but do not receive any of the education about oral health," Rosacker said.

What Rosacker particularly liked about the relief project was their attention to educating the community. "Every day we were there, hours of time were spent educating everyone on how to brush and the importance of oral health," he said.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, January 15, 2008 10:27 AM | News Topics: Community Outreach, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Students

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