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Dental Hygiene Students Offer Care at Nicaraguan School


Six Pennsylvania College of Technology students and their instructor recently traveled to Nicaragua, where they provided dental care for students at a school for very poor children.

La Escuelita (The Little School) is in the Santo Domingo section of the city of Managua. The community was declared uninhabitable following a 1972 earthquake, but the poorest of the city continued to settle in the area. Still, much of Santo Domingo has not been rebuilt. Many adults hold informal jobs selling food and drinks at the large Oriental Market.

“The most surprising experience in Nicaragua was to see these children and their families who had so little, but were so happy in life,” said student Carrie M. Derk, of Chambersburg.

“Everyone was so warm and friendly,” added Claudia N. Naylor, of Littlestown. “I expected to see despair, but instead I saw people with a zest for life.”

Penn College dental hygiene: health policy and administration concentration student Carrie M. Derk, of Chambersburg, offers a demonstration of proper tooth-brushing technique to children in the Santo Domingo neighborhood of Managua, Nicaragua. (Photo provided)
Penn College dental hygiene: health policy and administration concentration student Carrie M. Derk, of Chambersburg, offers a demonstration of proper tooth-brushing technique to children in the Santo Domingo neighborhood of Managua, Nicaragua. (Photo provided)

Students in Penn College’s dental hygiene: health policy and administration bachelor-degree major have been visiting La Escuelita since 2008.

The school was established by a group of community members who wanted to provide an educational opportunity for children who probably would not otherwise attend school. Although the Nicaraguan government established a policy to provide free education for all children, those without money to buy the required books and school supplies often do not attend, according to La Escuelita’s literature.

The government estimates that over 35 percent of Nicaraguan children nationally are not in school. La Escuelita helps to fill that void by providing free instruction and school supplies, as well as a free, nutritious lunch.

While at La Escuelita, the Penn College group provided care to 105 children, as well as teachers and interpreters. The students provided education, cleanings, fluoride treatments and dental sealants. Two Nicaraguan dentists completed fillings and extractions.

“I’ll never forget how scared the kids were, and it was so hard to comfort them with the language barrier,” said Holli E. Styer, of Denver, Pennsylvania. “But once they realized it didn’t hurt and we were there to help, and they hugged us and said ‘thank you,’ it was all worth it.”

In addition to their clinical work inside the school, the students conducted a health fair for the community, with information on tooth brushing, tooth decay, dental sealants, infant/maternal dental health, nutrition and the harmful effects of smoking.

“I’ve never seen so many cavities as I did in those kids,” Styer said. “I thought: ‘How sick and hurting the kids must be.’ And I’ll never forget how happy they were brushing their teeth once we taught them how.

“I brought back with me not getting frustrated at patients for having bad teeth when they might not ever have learned how to take care of teeth, and it might not be a priority growing up, so it’s not their fault,” she added. “And to take time with every patient to teach them the importance of the correct brushing technique and linking healthy teeth to overall health.”

They experienced firsthand how patient care can exceed clinical procedures.

“The numerous prophylaxes (dental cleanings), sealants and educational tools we provided were great, but the relationships formed and the compassion … are what truly left a lasting impression,” said Chelsea B. Wanner, of New Holland.

“Not only are we there for dental, but simply talking and taking your time to get to know someone and let them know you care is important,” Styer echoed.

Natalina R. D’Urso, of Greenville, returned to the U.S. with even greater passion for her professional calling: “This experience helped me realize that I can help so many people with my career. It’s not just a job; it’s a service, and I can spend my time serving others.

Joining Derk, D’Urso, Naylor, Styer and Wanner were student Alicia A. Maines, of Philipsburg, and Rhonda J. Seebold, of Danville, a part-time instructor of dental hygiene.

Each expressed how fortunate they felt to be part of the experience.

“I went to Nicaragua to help others, but I didn’t realize how much they would give me,” Naylor said. “I walked away from this experience with a whole new outlook on life.”

To learn more about dental hygiene majors at Penn College, call 570-327-4519.

For information about Penn College, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

The Penn College contingent, sporting “Sonrisas Para Todos” (Smiles for Everyone) T-shirts, from left, Alicia A. Maines, Natalina R. D’Urso, Rhonda J. Seebold, Holli E. Styer, Claudia N. Naylor, Carrie M. Derk, and Chelsea B. Wanner.
The Penn College contingent, sporting “Sonrisas Para Todos” (Smiles for Everyone) T-shirts, from left, Alicia A. Maines, Natalina R. D’Urso, Rhonda J. Seebold, Holli E. Styer, Claudia N. Naylor, Carrie M. Derk, and Chelsea B. Wanner.

Students work together to place sealants. From left, Claudia N. Naylor, Rhonda J. Seebold, Chelsea B. Wanner and Carrie M. Derk.
Students work together to place sealants. From left, Claudia N. Naylor, Rhonda J. Seebold, Chelsea B. Wanner and Carrie M. Derk.

Claudia N. Naylor staffs a display on nutrition and oral health during a community health fair.
Claudia N. Naylor staffs a display on nutrition and oral health during a community health fair.

The group shows off its Penn College pride.
The group shows off its Penn College pride.

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