Dental Hygiene Belize Study Abroad

Minnesota State University Mankato’s First Dental Hygiene Study Abroad to Belize

The development of a service-learning experience for Minnesota State University Mankato dental hygiene students took place March 2-9, 2013, as the first dental hygiene study abroad to Belize came to fruition. Six senior dental hygiene students signed up to accompany me on this learning abroad experience. Dental professionals in the Mankato community contacted me to express interest in going, resulting in an additional eight people accompanying us. This included two dentists, one oral surgeon, two dental assistants, two dental hygienists, and one spouse.

Dr. Mark Johnson, a dentist who operates the dental clinic at Holy Cross School, and Dr. Efrain Cima, a Belizean dentist at the Poly Clinic, a free clinic on the island of Ambergris Caye, assisted with the organization of the week. With their help, I developed an agenda to provide dental care for as many people as possible. The majority of our time and efforts were spent at Holy Cross School and the Poly Clinic. We also provided dental screenings, oral hygiene instructions, fluoride varnishes for the children at the Roman Catholic School. Throughout the course of the week, we provided 129 exams, 122 dental cleanings, 55 sealants, 27 fillings, 76 fluoride varnishes, 36 extractions, and 7 x-rays at Holy Cross School and the Poly Clinic. We provided 618 dental screenings, oral hygiene instructions, and fluoride varnishes at the Roman Catholic School. Our dental team donated 800 toothbrushes and fluoride varnishes for the children at the schools.

Traveling to Belize for this dental service-learning opportunity was an unbelievable experience for everyone involved. The students were able to provide dental care to a culturally diverse population, provide care as a team member in a “triage” model with other dental professionals, and had the opportunity to become acquainted with a culture different from their own. All of the dental professionals who accompanied us said it was a life-changing experience and want to return next year. The students unanimously felt it was the most rewarding, educational experience they had in the two years of the dental hygiene program.

The following is an excerpt from one of the student’s reflection paper:

I cannot express how much this trip has opened my eyes to dental care that is needed worldwide and how much this trip improved my clinical skills as a dental hygiene student. Thank you for all of your support in making this trip possible. It has been the highlight of my academic career here at Minnesota State University, Mankato and is something that I will talk about and remember for the rest of my life. The amount of information, clinical skills, and growth I have learned from this trip is endless. ~ Brigette Cooper – Dental Hygiene Belize Study Abroad