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We are a group of volunteers from the Pacific Northwest who travel each year to Santa Catarina Mita, a small town in Guatemala, to provide dental care to school-age children. These beautiful children face a lifetime of dental pain because they lack the most basic care. In addition to providing preventative care, we teach dental hygiene and healthy eating habits. We train Guatemalan schoolteachers and health workers to continue what we do throughout the year.

What We Do

Our team of volunteers, organized into two dental clinic teams and a roving fluoride team, arrives on a Sunday. Each clinic team transforms an empty schoolroom into a multi-chair dental clinic. By Monday morning, a long line of excited school children weaves down the hallway, and our teams work diligently over the next few days to serve them all before moving the clinic to another school where hundreds more children and their parents eagerly await.

We visit the same schools each year, ensuring that children receive continuity of care and true preventive oral health. We also build trusting relationships with the school teachers and staff. Teaching and training teachers and parents continues to be an essential goal that will sustain our work. As teachers take over this work, we are expanding into more rural schools.

Our engineers keep the clinic running smoothly in grass roots, less-than-optimal, conditions while at the same time work to improve community problems such as access to clean water and solar energy.

 

Services We Provide

 

Education: We teach dental hygiene and good eating habits to the children and their families and give teachers materials to continue this important effort throughout the school year. Our hands-on curriculum – songs, demonstrations and games – engage the children and leave them with lasting impressions.

Fluoride for all: We apply preventive fluoride treatments to all school children and train and equip teachers to continue this important preventive care after we leave.

Preventive sealants: We provide dental sealants to all children who have their permanent molars to prevent decay and preserve their teeth.

Urgent care: Our triage team identifies children with serious decay and abscesses. Our dental team provides treatment that can prevent life-threatening health problems. When necessary, we do fillings and extractions.

Our Team

Our ever-increasing team has been traveling from Portland, Oregon to Santa Catarina Mita, Guatemala for over a decade, collaborating with members of the community to provide long-term preventive dental care.

Why Santa Catarina Mita?

After witnessing the devastating effects of extensive dental decay during her volunteer missions with Medical Teams International, Betty Buford approached her acquaintance, Emiliano Ibarra, with her desire to found a volunteer dental team that focused on preventive care to work in Latin America. Emiliano’s wife, Ruby, was born and raised in Santa Catarina Mita and knew that most children in the village lacked access to dental care. Emiliano contacted Dr. Oscar Garcia, a dentist from Guatemala City who grew up in Santa Catarina Mita and volunteered his time at the Rotary International Clinic there (now closed). Dr. Garcia helped establish our week of dental work with the children and volunteered with us for several years. These personal connections in Santa Catarina Mita have helped us build lasting relationships with local families, schools, and the health department. Today, Dr. Luis Gonzalez is our in-country dentist, and volunteers for a full week every year with Nuevas Sonrisas.

​We also have strong support and collaboration with the Mayor of Santa Catarina Mita, who provides us with 5 full time staff members from the local health department every year. Nuevas Sonrisas board members work year round organizing, fundraising, gathering donations, and communicating with the local schools and representatives in Santa Catarina Mita. Our team is extremely well-prepared and efficient thanks to our strong leadership.

 

Nuevas Sonrisas Board