Jamal Kean Quiroz and Gabriel Melendez are two students attending the Holy Cross Anglican School on Ambergris Caye. Despite being from different backgrounds, they both face a common problem at school and in their communities – discrimination. The young boys suffer from two different dental related problems. They are hopeful that volunteer dentists at the Smile Dental Clinic would be able to make the physical changes to their teeth, eventually transforming their smiles into bright and beautiful ones.
Quiroz who is nearly eleven years old, is a standard II student. He lives in the San Mateo Area of San Pedro Town along with his mom and another sibling. He suffers from a protrusion of the upper front teeth. It is a common dental problem that can be characterized by the upper teeth extending much further out than the lower teeth. Quiroz said that other children make fun of him calling him “big teeth” and other derogative and mean names. “It makes me feel real bad and sometimes I cry,” said Quiroz.
Melendez lives with his parents and two siblings, and he was born with a cleft palate, something that has compromised his teeth alignment. The eight-year-old has a fistula (abnormal connection between his nose to under his mouth) caused by a surgery to correct his cleft palate. Because Melendez had to undergo corrective surgery at an early infant stage, it is hard to notice his problem until he speaks. That is because air escapes from his mouth through the fistula. His surgery has also caused a misalignment of the teeth on the upper jaw. “I am shy to be around people because they say I can’t talk well,” said Melendez. “I play by myself because I don’t like when other children make fun of me.”
For visiting Orthodontist Doctor Alex Willis, one of the volunteers at the Smile Dental Clinic, these types of social discrimination that Quiroz and Melendez face are commonly associated with patients having physical dental problems. “For that reason it is essential that we take the corrective measures to assist these kids at an early age… I can remember Jamal saying to me, Dr. Willis, I don’t want you to forget that you said you were going to help me fix my teeth. That almost brought tears to my eyes,” said Willis.
The chances of correcting Quiroz’s problem are high. “What we are doing is to retract those teeth back into a more proper relationship and so we are using an optable protrusion corrective appliance. What this is does is that it takes something similar to a football player’s plastic mouth piece. Using an adjusted piece around his head and with elastic rubber bands, we secure the mouth pieces which eventually close the space and moves the teeth into place,” said Willis. According to Willis, the patient is encouraged to wear the appliance at home and during sleep time daily. If used daily, Quiroz will be able to see a difference after three months. “We could have used braces instead, but braces require much more supervision. What we are using on him will allow Jamal to do it on his own with limited supervision.” According to Willis, Quiroz’s case is common but if corrected, Quiroz will face less social discrimination and will be able to eat properly and live a normal life.
According to Dr. Willis, Melendez’s case is more challenging. Because the fistula needs to be closed a plastic surgeon would need to be involved in his corrective process. “There will be a need for a bone graft to cover the soft tissue. Once that has been taken care of, and his permanent teeth begin to grow, then we will be able to do some corrective measures on his teeth. His case has to be closely monitored,” said Dr. Willis. “Gabriel’s case is very uncommon, and about one in every 5,000 kids suffer from these deformities, it happens all over the world.”
“For cases like Jamal, it is a social problem when you have your teeth sticking out. This happens in all societies all over the world… For Gabriel, if his condition is not fixed, he will have problems pronouncing words because air escapes from his nose,” said Willis, who has been overseeing the two children’s cases for some time.
Quiroz and Melendez are just two of the many patients that the Smile Dental Clinic have been seeing over the years. In fact, Dr. Willis said that for the past ten years that he has been coming to the clinic, he has seen a difference in the children. “If it was not for this clinic, many of the children on the island would be suffering from serious dental problems. This clinic is truly a blessing to this community. I believe that there is no other school in the entire Central and South America with a dental clinic and with the type of services given to the children,” observed Willis.
The treatments given by the many volunteers that pass through the Smile Dental Clinic are similar to those services offered in any state-of-the-art dental clinic in the United States. Because of the treatment, medical equipment and other items used at the Smile Dental Clinic, there are several services that the local clinic at Holy Cross is capable of conducting. For that reason, both Quiroz and Melendez are hopeful and remain optimistic that their dental disorders will be able to be treated at their school’s clinic. “I want to be like the rest of the children,” said Melendez.
With the coordination of Dr. Mark Johnson, the Smile Dental Clinic has been providing free dental clinics for Belizean students on the island for the past ten years.
This article was originally published in the San Pedro Sun and is reproduced here with permission.