By Laurie Mathews

Today was the first day of our volunteer dental clinic in Nepal – a rich and intense day filled with the smiles of so many children.

This morning our group of 15 volunteers watched the first line of children wind around the corner into view. We were treating children from the Tashi Welfare School, a local school of about 100 kids.

GDR has been caring for these students every two years since 2008. It is a treat to see how excited the students are to return – for them it clearly means a day off school and time filled with lots of attention and new interaction.

Upon arrival, each child selects their new toothbrush. This may be one of the few “new” items they receive and the choice warrants careful consideration. Once everyone has a brush, students are given detailed tooth brush instruction.

Since these are mostly returning patients they have a great time shouting out the answers to our questions: “Do you brush your teeth – YESSS, TWO TIMES A DAY. When do you brush, MORNING AND EVENING! They are excited to give the right answers and we are deeply moved by this exuberance – a highlight for the day.

As the students enter the clinic, they get a dental chart and then wait in line often avidly discussing the proceedings before them. When their name is called, some children are so wound up they approach the dental chair with their mouths wide open, ready to go.

Volunteer dentists and hygienists work hard though the long day, giving each child a dental exam, cleanings, fillings and extractions as needed and a fluoride treatment. Most of the Tashi Welfare children have very good teeth.

After six years of care by GDR volunteers, only three Tashi Welfare students have extensive work and require a second visit. Best of all, 58 percent of the children treated have “perfect teeth” and almost all are clearly brushing their teeth. It is heartwarming to see this very real, concrete progress.

A favorite moment takes place when I take the chart from a 12 year old girl and read the information about her visits since 2010. I look at her chart and tell her – “Wow, this is great – you came four years before and needed two fillings. Last time in 2012 you had just one problem, and this time you have “perfect teeth.” She gives me a beaming smile.

Before I know it I am surrounded by students holding out their charts and asking to hear the story of their teeth. I am thrilled by this interest and read their “tooth stories” one by one.

The day ends here with our 15 volunteers treating a total of 153 local students. The team is weary as we make our way back to our guesthouse but the conversation is lively. I can tell their minds, like mine, are filled to bursting with images of smiling, healthy children.

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