The University of New Mexico's Division of Dental Hygiene is establishing its first international oral health outreach program in Granada, Nicaragua, this June, said Vicki Gianopoulos, assistant professor, DDH.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Many residents lack basic needs as well as medical care. Transportation costs are prohibitive for those in rural areas who are seeking medical care.

"A group of 21 dental hygiene students, eight Dental Hygienist/Dentist UNM faculty and other volunteers will embark on the first opportunity for undergraduate and graduate dental hygiene students to provide oral health care services abroad," she said.

Students will deliver care in two rural sites just outside of Granada, San Blas and Santa Ana. Residents there are generally employed in agriculture, with many subsisting on less than $2 per day and malnutrition being prevalent.

"San Blas has portable drinking water, but Santa Ana's main well is now contaminated. There is one public health outpost in San Blas and an NGO clinic which provides care in San Blas and surrounding rural areas including Santa Ana; however, there is no dentist; therefore, people do not receive regular dental care," Gianopoulos said.

"The students will provide a variety of health care treatments including oral prophylaxes, sealant placements, fluoride treatments, tooth extractions and restorative work," Gianopoulos said. She added that students will work in conjunction with dentists, oral surgeons and other volunteer health care providers for one week, July 2–9, to treat as many as 400 patients in great need of oral care.

"In addition to benefiting the people of Nicaragua, this excursion will be an extremely beneficial experience to participating students. They will learn to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, while receiving exposure of working to an entire different culture in a third world medically malnourished country in Latin America," Gianopoulos said.

She added that in addition to treating patients, students will be immersed in the area's cultures and cultural sites. "Prior to departure, students will be attending lectures on dental terminology in Spanish, lead by UNM Professor Charles Tatlock, DDS. Then they will have the option of taking Spanish courses from Casa Xalteva – a non-profit school and children's learning center located in Granada," Gianopoulos said.