Sometimes medical workers are called upon by professional organizations to donate their expertise in less-affluent countries. Sometimes, the idea comes from the professionals themselves.
The latter was the case for Sun City Summerlin dentist Dr. Cal Evans, whose dental practice is at 9406 W. Lake Mead Blvd. He received a call from fellow dentist Dr. William Moline of Green Bay, Wis., suggesting they go to the Dominican Republic and help people there needing dental implants.
“In that part of the world, things are done differently,” Evans said. “When in doubt, they pull the tooth out.”
He flew to Santo Domingo the third week of November to spend four days with a team of eight other American dentists. The implants were donated by the manufacturer Implant One of Green Bay.
Things went awry as soon as he got off the plane. Evans said he followed a group of people to baggage claim only to realize he was outdoors. Getting back in required going through security and trying to explain his situation. Without speaking Spanish, he was left to approach every person he saw, asking, “Habla Ingles? Habla Ingles?” until an American businesswoman overheard him and helped him get American Airlines to help him. The gate agent claimed his luggage and handed it over.
“I gave him $20 and got the heck out of there,” Evans said. “We joked that I’m a wanted fugitive in the Dominican Republic.”
Things went more smoothly after that.
Evans and his cohorts worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. the next four days.
Some residents needed one tooth implant, while others needed as many as five. Half of the patients were women.
“They were very appreciative of receiving treatment,” said Evans, “even though it was just with local anesthesia. There was no gas, no general anesthesia. I have patients here in Las Vegas who say, ‘I’ve got to have (full anesthesia),’ and things like that. Not there.”
It wasn’t the only difference he noticed.
The clinic used one main room, about 20-feet by 50-feet with all six dental chairs lined up in a row, “like med school.” There was no privacy for the patients.
The lighting was extremely weak, and the dental tools were not up to U.S. standards, he said.
Since the early 1980s, the diagnostic tools used to determine implant placement have included CAT scans. In Santo Domingo, however, they were still using X-rays.
“Nowadays, you have guided implants,” Evans said. “You can place it to within the millimeter of where it goes. There, we didn’t have that.”
In the U.S., a CAT scan shows where the nerve is, which is important because damage to the nerve can result in facial paralysis.
Nick Clausen, a dental laser coach for Implant Logistics, set up the international dentistry effort, which began in 2015. He plans to make four to six trips a year to the island with a group of different dentists each time. Evans was in the third group to go.
The trips are not just philanthropic, Clausen said, as the American dentists get a chance to work on extreme cases, which are not the norm here, where “we tend to nip things in the bud before they get bad.”
But, said Clausen, the Santo Domingo residents work for very low wages and do not have disposable income, so they do not go see a dentist for regular care. The islanders are charged $50 (U.S. equivalent) for the surgery, the implant and the crown.
“In the U.S., it would be $2,000 or more,” he said.
Clausen spoke to Evans’ level of competency and his reputation within the profession.
“Sometimes, you think the best dentist is (elsewhere) in the world, but in this case, we have one of the best in the world right in our backyard,” Clausen said.
The Dominican Republic patients would need five months to heal before local dentists could complete the dental work.
Evans said the trip was rewarding in more ways than one.
“It made me feel good,” he said. “It makes you feel you’ve done something for someone who you know couldn’t afford to have it done. The giver usually wins.”
— To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-387-2949.