95% of the people of the world have mouth or dental disease making it the number one disease in the world. In Belize, 65% of the population is 15 years old or younger. Most children have never seen a dentist in their entire lives, and that goes for most adults too! To see a dentist they have to travel sometimes 100's of miles by bus at a cost that they cannot afford. They have also never seen a dental hygienist which is also important for cleaning and teaching.
Scientific studies published in the Journal of Internal Medicine and the British Medical Journal established an association between gum disease (periodontitis) and cardiovascular disease. While the exact mechanism which links gum disease and cardiovascular disease has not been firmly established, the association between the two disease entities is cause for concern. In our Western health-conscious society, it is being recommended that patients with cardiovascular disease and especially those with heart valve deficiencies and/or replacements be monitored more thoroughly regarding their periodontal status.
Among the many obstacles the people of Belize face, both hunger and proper dental care sit at the top of the list. In fact, they’re related. Dr. Hammel recalls making the connection a few years ago. “Contrary to the kids in the U.S., it’s very common for the kids in Belize to hate Fridays because they may not see another meal until Monday. For quick energy and to help with the hunger pangs, they often suck on sugar water, which leads to terrible tooth decay. By age 10 or 11, many of these kids have to get their teeth pulled because they’re so abscessed.”
We have all of the equipment and instruments that we need. We also have 5 mobile units to take dentistry and dental hygiene into the villages surrounding Independence Village. This equipment has a value of more than $300,000 if replaced. We are now seeking monthly supporters to help carry the monthly operating cost of this important medical ministry as well as medical professionals to come and serve in both career and short-term opportunities.
Soon we will be looking forward to the development of housing in support of visiting medical professionals. We are currently identifying the budget for this project.