GREEN RIVER– In February, dentist Dr. Bryce Castillon and dental hygienist Kadee Pitt went on a dental humanitarian trip to Guatemala to help provide dental care and procedures to people in need.
Castillon and Pitt were able to travel to Guatemala for the humanitarian mission through the Hirsche Smiles Foundation. The Hirsche Smiles Foundation is a nonprofit organization that takes plastic surgery, dental, and home construction teams to underprivileged areas in Guatemala.
They traveled with a few other dentists from Utah, as well as a home construction team in which Dr. Castillon’s son, Paxton, was a part of. The teams spent ten days on the trip, four of which were spent working from sun up to sun down.
“It was a lot of work, but the work is so rewarding,”Pitt said.
Taking Her Opportunity to Do Good
Pitt has wanted to go on a humanitarian mission since she was in high school, so when the opportunity arose, she took it.
“Luckily I was actually able to go and do dental work,” Pitt said. “It was just so humbling.”
Pitt spent most of her time anesthetizing the patients before they had their extractions and restorations done.
“They’re the toughest people I know. Giving them shots was like nothing to them. The kids especially just took the shots like it was nothing,” Pitt said of the Guatemalans.
Pitt said going on a mission like this has opened her eyes to how much she takes for granted in her own life. Even something as simple as having clean water to brush your teeth with is a privilege not everyone has.
“You meet these people who essentially have nothing compared to us. Yet, they’re so happy and loving and appreciative of what they do have,” Pitt said. “It’s eye opening to how much we take for granted.”
Emphasizing the Importance of Service
Whereas this was Pitt’s first trip, Dr. Castillon has been on several of these service trips throughout the years. However, he had not been on one in a few years after he came home from one and was sick for months.
There were two motivations for Dr. Castillon to embark on another mission– his teenage son, Paxton and a sense of responsibility.
“As Paxton, my oldest, got old enough he said he wanted to go. That’s what made me want to go,” Castillon said. “And when you see how little people have and how much need there is, how much infection they have in their mouths, it really makes you feel like you need to get there and help. You have a responsibility to help if you can.”
Paxton went as a member of the service team which helped repair homes. They replaced roofs made of sticks and palm leaves with metal sheeting so the roofs wouldn’t leak when it rains.
“They don’t have 2×4 structures, so all they have is sticks essentially. So they were trying to screw metal sheeting into just a stick, it’s a totally different thing than we have here so it was really challenging for them,” Dr. Castillon said.
However, despite the challenge, Castillon said he could tell the six kids in the service group really enjoyed working on the homes.
“I wanted my son to see the dental side, and he did assist me for one day, but he actually liked being out there working on the roofs a lot more,” Castillon said. “All six kids just really enjoyed being out there in over 100 degree weather, on top of a super hot metal sheeting, sliding around a bit.”
Castillon added that it was a fun experience to see the kids on the service team work together, create a bond, and gain a different perspective.
“They got to see how lucky we are to have what we have, and I think it just really made Paxton happier. He just seemed to be really happy, which when they’re going through all the things kids go through in school, it can be really challenging. You just want to see them happy,” Castillon said.
Paxton had such a good experience in Guatemala that he is already asking to go again next year, and some of his friends want to go with.
“He got to see that it’s more rewarding to serve than it is to simply vacation. It was a good experience for him. All of the kids got to feel the joy of serving,” Castillon said.
Treating Over 300 Patients
On the first day of working, the dental team worked out of a village’s school, which according to Pitt, was essentially a single classroom. They moved the desks and tables out of the way and used all of the chairs the school had.
All of the patients lined up outside as dentists triaged them. Once the urgency of care needed was determined, Pitt would anesthetize them and send them to whichever dentist was available.
“The first day, we couldn’t even do everyone because there were so many people who needed work done,” Pitt said.
In total, the dental team treated 300 patients, and performed 452 extractions and 73 restorations
Performing Procedures in a Landfill
On the second day, the dental team was stationed at a medical clinic, however Pitt went with a few members of the dental team to treat some people who lived in the dump.
“They were supposed to come see us in the clinic in town but we heard they were too ashamed and embarrassed to come see us. So we went to them,” Pitt said.
Pitt and the other dental professionals loaded up a van and drove to the dump where they treated people. Pitt said upon pulling up to the dump, you could see everyone’s huts that were all connected, built right inside the dump.
“Some of the doctors I was with found a slab of concrete and put a sort of pavilion over it, and we found a couple of chairs out of the dump and just started doing extractions on them right then and there,” Pitt said. “It was so different than anything I’ve ever experienced, and it was so humbling. I’m really thankful I got to experience that.”
After treating everyone, the service team was still working on a home nearby, so the dental team joined them in putting a metal roof on a home.
“It was so humbling and rewarding. I’m so happy I got to experience the service side of it,” Pitt said.
The dental team also worked from a convent that also served as an orphanage and a school.
Visiting Under-Served Communities
Dr. Castillon explained that the Hirsches Smiles Foundation teams up with an ecology professor to find villages in need of services. When the professor goes up to help locals with farming techniques, he takes note of which villages may be in need of medical or dental services.
“It’s definitely under-served areas,” Castillon said. “Sometimes they haven’t been visited by a medical or dental professional in years.”
Due to the lack of services in these communities, they can’t always see every person to treat them. That’s where the Green River High School National Honor Society and Castillon’s ward at the LDS church came in.
“The National Honor Society and my ward at church helped put together thousands of hygiene kits. So we took over all these kits and we gave them to everyone we treated and even if we didn’t see them as a patient, we gave them those kits,” Castillon said.
The service teams also handed out blankets.
“They’re always so grateful to have anything that’s clean and new,” Castillon said. “It puts everything into perspective.”