In 1988, Dr. Jess Kane, Dr. David Tesini and Dr. John Ficarelli formed a dental outreach program to provide preventive dental care to children in need. Project Stretch, Dentistry Reaching Out to Children has been fortunate to be involved in bringing dental healthcare to children in Massachusetts, other areas in the United States and other countries over these past 30+ years. The mission of Project Stretch is to not only treat the acute needs of the children seen in clinic, but to provide broad-based dental health education, preventative services, fluoride rinse programs and the tools communities need to sustain these goals. Project Stretch strives to get local volunteers involved, which helps instill a sense of ownership and continuity.
For about 15 years, teams have been participating in a Project Stretch program in Teacapan, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Pacific coast. The year before the first trip, a Canadian who spent his winters in Teacapan came to Massachusetts to request that Project Stretch send volunteers to his village. The town had no dentist for a population of several thousand and he was concerned that the 2,500 children were having significant dental problems.
The first year Project Stretch sent a “scout” team of two dentists, a dental assistant and a dental hygienist to evaluate the location and decide if a dental program would be viable. The team examined about 1500 kids and provided toothbrushes, oral hygiene instruction and fluoride treatments to them all. The exams were carried out in the schools visited, using a classroom set aside for clinical use. The team also worked with high school students to teach them to become dental health educators, so they could teach the younger children about prevention of dental disease. American and Canadian hosts provided housing for the week and invited the team to share meals with them during our stay. It was quickly determined that Teacapan was a perfect location for a Project Stretch program and the team made plans to return the following year.
Within a few years the program was able to install two dental chairs and other equipment in a space donated by “Amigos de Teacapan,” a group ofNorth American and Mexican volunteers interested in improving the lives of their neighbors. Project Stretch ran golf tournaments, yard sales and other events to raise money for the trips to the town and dental supply companies generously donated supplies for the effort. Each team member brings a suitcase with their clothing and another with dental supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other dental items.
At the same time the clinic was being established, an American couple who spend the winter in Teacapan became motivated to support a child from a nearby community who might otherwise not be able to continue in school. They went to the local principal and asked him to identify a promising student whose family circumstances would have required him to leave school and go to work in the chili fields. A boy was chosen and this couple paid for his education through high school, with the stipulation that he maintain a B+ average or better. The student then decided that he would like to become a dentist, so they paid his tuitition to college and dental school as well! Dr. Luis is now starting a dental practice in his hometown, as well as helping with Project Stretch in Teacapan. He treats patients alongside Project Stretch during outreach trips and sees patients at the clinic on other days to keep dental services available throughout the year.
It is rewarding to think that this outreach program has reached so many lives in a positive way and the team plans to continue this commitment to Project Stretch.
MEXICO VOLUNTEER PAGE
1 – 8 Trip Leader is John Ficarelli
8 – 15 Trip Leader is Andrew Ficarelli
“Working as a volunteer for Project Stretch in Teacapan Mexico this past week, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my dental school career. I feel lucky to have had the privilege to provide dental care to children in pain and with active infections as well as preventative surfaces such as fluoride and scalings. But most importantly it was beautiful to see the long term impacts Project Stretch has had on the community. The most rewarding part of the trip was working with the older children who have been coming to the clinic since they were “kinders.” Most of these children only required sealants and flouride which shows the effectiveness of this program. Project Stretch has done an incredible job establishing trust within the community and educating the children about the importance of oral health. This is the type of change that creates real resolutions for oral health issues within the community and I feel honored to have been a part of that.”