When a group of dental students arrive in Peru next week, they hope to create some smiles as well as brighten them.
Five College of New Caledonia dental hygiene and dental assisting students, along with instructor Heather Mohr and dentist Dr. Paul Comparelli, leave June 12 for a volunteer trip in Central America.
The group will work in a community centre in San Jose Obrero, about 45 minutes from the capital city of Lima, providing free dental care to children and adults.
"We'll provide restorative and preventative treatment, extractions, dental hygiene, as well as educational workshops," said Mohr.
That ability to provide a service to people who may not typically have access was a big draw for the students going on the trip.
"I've always wanted to do some sort of volunteer excursion. I just hadn't found the right outlet in order to do so," said assisting student Danielle Burton.
Hygiene student Chanel Alderton, who wanted to be involved with dentistry from the time she was five years old, was also looking for an opportunity to give back overseas.
"I just want to help people and you see different experiences there than you would ever see here," she said.
Planning for the trip began last September, with each student needing to raise about $4,000.
The group is volunteering through Developing World Connections, a Canadian grassroots, non-profit organization. They are bringing dental equipment, such as sonic scalers and hand pieces with them as well as 800 toothbrushes for their patients to keep.
It won't just be all about dental health for the volunteers, said assisting student Alyssa Petersen, who said she is looking forward to interacting with the children.
"I know there's going to be a language barrier but it will still be very exciting to get them involved and we also have crafts, so it's not always going to be about teeth," Petersen said. "We'll keep them entertained and hopefully change how they think about brushing their teeth."
With oral care not as high on the list of priorities as it is in North America, the trip will be an opportunity to shine some light on healthy practices.
"If they can have healthy, happy teeth, they can eat, they can nourish themselves - that's a huge thing for them," said Burton. "So it would be nice to bring that awareness to them and help them out with that."
This will be the second volunteer trip organized by the CNC dental program. Last February, Mohr took six dental hygiene students to Tanzania, which she said was a well-rounded experience.
"What I found with the students last year is that I got to see them work as a team and be able to do some health promotion and education. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the children in the orphanages," she said, noting they also brought crafts, balloons and face paints to spend time with and get to know the kids they were working with. Last year's group of six also worked in a regional hospital.
Even though she hasn't left yet, hygiene student Katelyn Currie is already looking forward to more experiences like the one she's about to embark on, and hopes to go on more trips with Mohr.
"I'm hoping to volunteer a lot more in my professional career as well," she said.