15 years ago, there were no dentists on the island. Dentistry, for the most part, was emergency rather than preventative and that meant yanking out an infected tooth that hurt. Bad. Like me as a child, like many of you, kids and adults despised the dentist.
But Dr. Mark Johnson, a dentist in Minnesota and a home owner on Ambergris Caye, wanted to change all that. To teach kids about oral hygiene (about their “baby teeth” and adult teeth) and to take the fear out dentistry.
Now his “Smile Clinic” has a full dental set-up for three dentists at the Holy Cross School, volunteers come down from the states and from San Pedro eight times a year, and kids are getting two check ups and cleanings a year – and loving it. REALLY. I saw it with my own eyes. Made me wish my dentist did puppet shows and gave out toys when I was a kid.
These are the first two people I met when I walked in the door. This is PRE-appointment. Both are 8 and neither has been to the dentist before. Ever.
What they are doing is AMAZING. I visited the Holy Cross School – the only FREE school on the island – all run from generosity and incredible devotion and hard work. In less than 10 years, it has gone from 62 students to over 420 – and from pre-school to pre-high school, this institution is another miracle. Well…rather shows what people can do when they set their minds to it.
Here’s what I saw when I visited. Holy Cross School is in San Mateo, just north of the bridge in San Pedro, and a neighborhood built over water. The living conditions in this area are tough – especially when it rains. And boy was it about to rain!
I went through to the office to meet the staff of the school and Dr. Mark. I saw this on the wall…very applicable to the dentist.
I didn’t learn until my early 20s, that when you have a great dentist, there is NOTHING to be afraid of.
A storage room full of donated medical supplies for the kids.
And dental supplies.
And then Dr. Mark showed me the full dentists’ offices right there at the school. It’s not just the equipment and the amazing donated time from these doctors, it’s air conditioning and de-humidifiers run 24 hours a day to keep the equipment from rusting in the sea air. A major operation. And all donated time, money, equipment, amazing.
And when you are done…and your smile is gleaming, your teeth flourided and sealed! You pick a bag of toys and stickers.
Issues that they are tackling are baby bottle syndrome – teeth that can be severely softened and even black and rotted by kids falling asleep with juice or milk in bottles. The sugar does SEVERE damage to those small growing teeth. (WATER ONLY if a bottle is a must.) And sugar. Kids eating candy, ideals and drinking sodas – all wear on small teeth.
I then visited the next office and the hygienist had rigged up some helpers. She also did a dental puppet show for the younger kids before the clinic started.
She is absolutely lovely. I’d visit this dentist in a heartbeat! I wonder if she has time…
And looking down at the kids in her chair.
Do these kids look scared?
I was given a tour of the school and to say I was shocked is an understatement.
I stopped in the computer lab. Kids take typing and computer skills from Grade 3. The only one on the island, it looked almost like a university room.
A GORGEOUS library.
A ladies sewing area. These women work here to mend and sell affordable uniforms and to make other crafts.
A quick look in the huge cafeteria. All kids are giving a free lunch.
And then came the rains…
And then over to the kids. And either I was looking crazy huggable or these kids are just the cutest. TOTALLY #2.
I was surrounded.
A blur of cute kids. I WISH MY CAMERA COULD HAVE CAPTURED IT.
They were off to lunch and I was going home – overwhelmed by the school and the free dental clinic and…it’s all just amazing. So incredible what a handful of people can get done if they set their minds to it and WORK HARD.
I passed this guy on the way out.
I don’t blame him for hanging around – this school and the SMILE CENTER rock.
Dr. Mark spoke of putting a clinic in the library building at the RC School in San Pedro town – the largest school with over 900 kids. A dream that someone can certainly help make come true.
Here is the schedule for the upcoming Smile Centers which are open TO ALL KIDS. And please, if you would like to volunteer or help, email Dr. Mark at BelizeanMark@hotmail.com.
I hope I conveyed something of the AMAZING work that is being done – both at Holy Cross School (started by one couple who visited from the mainland 10 years ago and wondered why kids weren’t in school) and by the Smile Clinic. Just totally awesome.
January 18th-23rd Holy Cross School
Dr Ken Beadling
Dr George Hankerman
Ms Jessica Brewer
January 25th-29th Holy Cross School
Dr Paul Roggow
Dr Steve Bender
Dr Mike Haddow
February 1st-5th Holy Cross School
Dr Alex Willis
Dr Steve Suddreth
February 17th-24 Holy Cross School
Dr Dan Larscheid and staff
(need another Dr for these dates)
February 29th-March 3rd Holy Cross School and Dr Otto Rodriguez Memorial Poly Clinic
Ms Brigette Cooper
Dr Richard Kim
Dr Larry Eichmeyer
Dr Jim Kalina
Mankato State University Hygiene Students
March 14th and 15th Holy Cross School / March 16th and 17th Dr Otto Rodriguez Memorial Poly Clinic
Ms Susan K Kloosterboer
Dr Adina Ness
Ms Heidi Peterson
Madison College School of Health Education Hygiene Students
March 16th and 17th Holy Cross School
Dr Staci Blaha
Dr Joanne Brown
May 4th-6th Holy Cross School
Dr Hal Soloman and Staff