Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Lack of potable water contributes to dental woes in Guatemala

by Lisa Sharkey, for the Inland Register

(From the September 17, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Christy Meyers, a dental hygienist from the Tri-Cities area, demonstrates proper dental care at a school in the area of the Guatemala mission. (IR photo courtesy of Lisa Sharkey)

When we visited some of the schools during our first trip to Guatemala, my husband, a dentist, asked one of the teachers, “How much do toothaches affect the students in your class?”

We were all shocked by the answer: Every class has two students absent every week due to dental pain. In fact, it is one of the major reasons why children miss school.

Unfortunately, the lack of clean water contributes to this problem, as the people of Guatemala choose pop and acidic fruit juices to drink as a substitute. The introduction of junk food such as chips and candy also has had a detrimental effect on the dental health of Guatemalans. We left with a determination to address this problem.

The Sisters of Notre Dame who live in Novillero told us during our visit that they had been praying for a dentist. They had also seen the effects of poor dental health. The following summer, Dr. Bart Roach, from our Pasco parish, went to stay with them and performed dentistry on many people. He continues to take a team to Guatemala every year.

After observing what was termed a “dental tech” pull teeth in Ixtahuacán, my husband, Dr. Pat Sharkey, decided that what was really needed was education. He and one of his hygienists, Christy Myers, put together a program for the schools and presented it on our next visit. They went into the schools around Ixtahuacán and talked to the students about the importance of brushing and the problems with junk food. They also left toothbrushes in the classrooms so that the teachers can help and encourage the use of them.

Unfortunately, on our second visit we found out that the “dental tech” was no longer visiting Ixtahuacán. So on our subsequent visits, we hope to also be working more directly to alleviate dental pain.

If you know of any dentists who are interested in helping with the problem of poor dental health in Guatemala, please have them contact the Guatemalan Commission for more information.

(Editor’s note: The chair of the Guatemala Commission is Patt Perlman:; (708) 217-2264.)

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