Our own Dr. Gregory J. Plancich recently returned from a week-long volunteer trip to Guatemala with the Open Wide Foundation, where he donated his time, skills, and dental expertise to the people of Peronia. Every year, Dr. Plancich and his team embark on a dental mission of almost 3,000 miles in the name of spreading oral healthcare to those in need.
The Open Wide Foundation operates year-round and coordinates dental teams from all corners of the United States for 35 weeks out of the year. Dr. Plancich brought along his son Bryce, a first-year University of Washington dental student and his fellow classmate Paul Lutgen. The team also consisted of Connecticut general dentist Dr. Abraham John, Hawaii oral surgeon Dr. Joan Greco, and their daughters.
Here are some quick statistics about the Open Wide Foundation:
- Number of patients treated: more than 125,000
- Number of volunteers who have participated: more than 500
- Number of clinics opened: 9 (including two mobile units)
- Number of local young dentists mentored and trained: 40
The biggest challenge that Dr. Plancich faced during his mission was communication. Although there was an interpreter present, communication was still a difficult barrier the dental team had to overcome. “You have to use all your communication skills, both nonverbal and verbal, to get over the language barrier,” Dr. Plancich says. “We even had to draw pictures – anything to get the message across.” However, Dr. Plancich says that the patients were all very receptive. “Most of them are either in pain or have a definite problem. They wanted help.”
Dr. Plancich recalls one patient he saw during the mission trip who walked more than five hours to get to the center. “When he got to my chair, I did everything I could for him so he could be on his way for his 5 ½ hour journey back.”
What was the biggest lesson Dr. Plancich learned from his experience in Guatemala? “We take the little things for granted,” he says.
“Oral healthcare is almost nonexistent in Guatemala. They’re just concerned with surviving, to be frank. Compared to here in the US where we have a dentist office on practically every corner.”
After they completed treatment for the patients, Dr. Plancich says the patients would often offer prayers for the dental team as a way of saying ‘thank you’. “They couldn’t pay for their service but they would pray for us and our safety. They were extremely grateful in that sense, and not just the patient but their entire family as well,” Dr. Plancich says.
At the moment, the future of Open Wide Foundation’s next project in Guatemala is uncertain. Due to the importance and positive impact the center has in the community, Dr. Plancich says that the local Peronia government plans to take over the center with a permanent staff to operate year-round in 2017.
“There are about 50 dental ambassadors a part of the Open Wide Foundation. We all want a say in the future,” Dr. Plancich says. He hints that another center could be build in Guatemala under the same model as the Peronia center. There’s also a possibility of a new center being opened in other deserving countries.
While the future of Open Wide Foundation’s involvement in Guatemala is currently in discussion, fundraising continues for those interested in aiding Dr. Plancich and the Open Wide Foundation to provide future dental procedures, preventative care and oral health education to those without means. To help support Dr. Plancich’s future dental missions, visit here. Read more about Dr. Plancich’s mission trip in a recent article by Spear Education.