Howard University > Howard University Health Sciences in Haiti 2012

Howard Student Learns Tough Lessons About Dental Care in Haiti

College of Dentistry student Akelah Brown helps Dr. Lucana Clotaire, chief of dentistry for Haiti's northeastern district, extract a tooth.  Brown said she saw many teenagers who were missing their complete top front teeth.

FORT-LIBERTÉ, Haiti (June 27) – Here’s the harsh reality of dental care in Haiti.  In the northeast district, there are five dentists for more than 283,000 people.  Two of them are public, which means they are paid by the government.  The other three are private.  Consequently, when College of Dentistry student Akeylah Brown showed up with other members of the dentistry team to offer free care, they were swamped by anxious Haitians with serious dental needs.

Every day, lines literally pressed against the door as impoverished men and women, many with children, fought to be the next patient treated by the dental team put together by the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) and the Haitian American Alliance (HAA).

The need was so apparent that it struck Brown immediately.

“My first patient almost made me cry,” said Brown, who provided the man with a cleaning.  “He kept telling me how grateful he was and how gentle I was.”

NOAH’s portion of the clinic was headed by Dr. Fabiola Milord, a dentist with Catholic Charities Dental Services in New York City who had done over 30 medical missions.  She and Brown worked with a Haitian dentist and Dr. Lucana Clotaire, chief of dentistry for the northeastern district.

The dentists were doing primarily extractions, normal and deep cleaning and some root canals, Brown said.

There are only five dentist in northeastern Haiti for 285,000  people.  Consequently, patients were literally pressed against the door outsiden\ the dental clinic so they could be the next to be seen.

Brown was stunned at the levels of decay and tooth loss among the patients.

“Many of them have lost all of their front teeth by the age of 16,” she said.  “In fact, it’s a real source of pride to have their teeth cleaned.  I heard the young girls bragging about the fact that they have teeth to even get cleaned.”

The problem with dentistry in Haiti is a matter of simple economics, Clotaire said.

“The problem is who is going to pay for the patients,” he said, his frustration showing.  “If people could pay, I could have 10 dentists in here tomorrow.  It’s one of the health care issues that we are wrestling with.”

In the absence of a solution, the void has been filled by “fake doctors,” who do more harm than good, Clotaire said.

They are lay people who pull teeth and provide dental care with no training or real knowledge, he said, which leads to the spread of hepatitis and other infections.

Milford had arrived in Haiti after catching a last minute flight from Alaska to New York so she could make a flight to Santiago, Dominican Republic, and then take a four-hour bus ride to Forte-Liberté.

Dr. Fabiola Milford, a New York dentist who volunteered, has done over 30 medical missions.  "It's the people that keep me coming back.  You see the need, and you just go."

Why?

“It’s the people that keep me coming back,” she said.  “It’s the need.  You see the need, and you just go.”

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