Every smile counts: Local dentist provides care in Bolivia

Deborah Butler, a traveling dentist with Kool Smiles, assists patients during a mission trip to Bolivia. Courtesy Photo

Deborah Butler, a dentist who travels around Virginia with Kool Smiles, spent a week on a mission trip in September providing dental care to children and adults in Bolivia.

Butler said while in Bolivia she filled and extracted teeth and provided education on proper dental hygiene.

“That’s where our hearts are,” she said, “to increase access to care.”

On the first day alone she saw 25 children who needed dental care, and added that the children lined up at the door and couldn’t wait to see a dentist, something she said is taken for granted in the U.S.

“Every smile counts,” she said, adding that her trip brought her a new perspective on life and what she also takes for granted living in America.

The children she saw in the South American nation were happy to have someone listen to them and show them compassion, and Butler said she received hugs from those who received toys and dental supplies in addition to the checkups. She said many of the children who visited were living on their own without parental guidance.

Butler said one child, a little girl, came back every day to visit her after her dental procedure. She hadn’t spoken a word since her father was arrested the year before, but was laughing and talking freely with Butler.

Butler also visited a prison during her stay to provide dental care to inmates.

She said there are many differences between dentistry performed in the United States and Bolivia. In the U.S., she said changing gloves and sterilizing instruments between patients is common practice, but in places such as Bolivia, these hygienic practices aren’t always done.

Because going to the dentist is almost routine in the U.S, a lot of dental work done during visits is aesthetic, but in Bolivia, basic dental work, such as cleanings and fillings, were needed by many of her patients because many had never seen a dentist before.

Her experience was “definitely eye opening,” and she said she’s thankful to be in “the land of plenty” here in the United States.

Although those in Bolivia may not have the resources that we do in the U.S., she described the people of Bolivia as a “hearty, resilient” people.

She said she has been practicing dentistry for 11 years and hopes to make another mission trip in the future.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.