March 5, 2009 –
Army Sgt. Carlos Laureano spoke softly to 14-year-old Nancy Saravia and gently enveloped her small hand in his as she sat quietly in a dental chair getting a filling.
The dentist, U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Laurence Davis, was one of eight dentists from the 808th Medical Dental Company, Fort Sheridan, Ill., here to conduct a dental readiness training exercise in Comayagua, Honduras, as part of the larger Beyond the Horizon exercise taking place throughout Central America.
Over the two-week mission, the team encountered challenges that extended beyond the various dental ailments they treated.
"Sometimes (parents tell children) they will take them to the dentist if they misbehave," said Sergeant Laureano, noncommissioned officer in charge of Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element Aviation Surgery section. "They come here and they are very afraid so we have to support them mentally and physically as well," he said.
But not all of the nearly 500 patients seen were afraid to sit in the big white chairs under the overly-bright exam lights set up in a makeshift clinic in the Comayagua Lyons Club.
Officer in charge Maj. Jim Hirsch said a 12-year-old student called, "the Colonel," had a smile on his face all day as he walked around the clinic. Major Hirsch said the boy got his nickname from his teachers because he helps to keep the other students on track.
"He's an orphan," Major Hirsch said. "He had nothing and for him to walk around with a big smile on his face all day was amazing to see. It really gives you an appreciation for what we have in life."
Major Hirsch said the majority of the 5- to 19-year-old patients being seen received amalgam fillings, sometimes six to 12 fillings in one patient. The team also extracted baby teeth, conducted several cleanings and applied sealants to prevent future cavities.
"Children, teens and young adults - this is the best time to catch them for their overall oral heath," Major Hirsch said. "In the U.S., most of these children would have gotten sealants on their teeth at a young age and they never would have been in the condition they're in now."
The children being seen on this mission are from two schools in the Department of Comayagua - Comal Huacan Village School in Valle de Angeles and Augusto C. Coello in Flores. The Ministry of Health works with JTF-B's MEDEL liaison officer to determine who will benefit most from the services offered through medical and dental readiness missions.
The dental mission is expected to be complete March 7. Beyond the Horizon continues through June with teams conducting medical readiness exercises as well as several engineering projects.