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UIC dental school considers partnership with Dominican Republic village

San José de Ocoa, Dominican Republic—A faculty-student team from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry traveled here July 11-Aug. 8 to assess the potential for a partnership between UIC and the local community to supplement dental services in the province of San José de Ocoa.

Dr. Linda Kaste, associate professor of pediatric dentistry, and Dr. Sara Gordon, associate professor of oral medicine and diagnostic sciences, provided basic dental services to mountain villages as part of the feasibility and needs assessment.

"The future partnering between San José de Ocoa and the UIC College of Dentistry is yet to be determined," said Dr. Kaste, who has visited 17 times previously on dental missions and is well-known in the local health community.

"However, as a Dominican United Nations AIDS representative noted during the public health assessment portion, the Dominican Republic is a very interesting and valuable place for learning about the world as it is considered to be the 'middle of the middle' among the global economic ranking of countries," she said.

"Middle of the middle" pertains to the country's economic standing, which positions the Dominican Republic squarely between the world's well-functioning and lower-functioning economies. There is much to learn from the middle of the middle, said Dr. Kaste, adding: "If this is the middle or average, then there are tremendous challenges in that bottom half, and we are very fortunate to be in the United States among the top."

Accompanying Drs. Kaste and Gordon was third-year student Laura Socias, who was born in the Dominican Republic.

"It was a great and awesome trip," said Ms. Socias, who translated for the team. "We learned a lot about the Ocoan community and we learned to love its people. We learned how to not only give to a needing community but to accept the help and the gifts people gave us."

One of the local dentists, Dr. Daniel Pena, joined Drs. Kaste and Gordon for three days as they extracted teeth in makeshift operatories set in places like the front porch of a local house and a school. Clean water was in short supply due to a drought, so large jugs of water were hauled in daily for washing. At one location, the team had to fend off chickens that wanted to drink the water from the hand-washing station.

The UIC group became well-acquainted with the children in the mountain villages by distributing stickers and toothbrushes. In return, the children harvested wild limes, which the UIC group used to make fresh limeade.

There were many colleagues and officials on hand to guide the UIC group. Emilia "Milita" Mejia, health committee leader, and Nelson Arias, chauffeur from the foundation of the Provincial Senator José Pedro Alegría, joined them daily and accompanied them to the countryside "clinics."

The Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph made available room and board at the Centro Padre Arturo. Housing was simple—a concrete block dormitory with ceiling fans—but luxurious compared to the homes of the villagers in the mountains, who live in wooden shacks with thatched roofs.

Kathleen Boyce, UIC College of Dentistry clinic inventory coordinator, and Dr. Michael Miloro, head of oral and maxillofacial surgery, lent instruments and donated dental supplies for the Dominican Republic mission. The UIC College of Pharmacy donated medications. Maria and Joseph Socias, Ms. Socias' parents, and Dr. Lourdes Socías de García-Godoy, her aunt, provided accommodations, transportation and local dental supplies. Dr. Frank Serio of the University of Mississippi, and a past member of the ADA/Health Volunteers Overseas Steering Committee, lent dental instruments.

For more information about international volunteer opportunities, contact the ADA Center for International Development and Affairs at Ext. 2726.