You are here

Creating Smiles

UNLV dental students travel to South America to help those in need

People  |  Jul 24, 2018  |  By UNLV Foundation
Allesandro Retis leaning on dental examine chair at UNLV School of Dental Medicine.

Allesandro Retis at UNLV School of Dental Medicine. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)  

Alessandro Retis remembers the poverty-stricken small towns in Peru where he grew up.   

“Some people there have nothing,” said the UNLV School of Dental Medicine student. “I always knew I wanted to go back and help.”

Retis and other students got a chance to help those in need through the UNLV Hispanic Student Dental Association. He and Jorge Quiroz, a native of Bolivia, organized the association’s first international mission trip during August 2017 to Saavedra, Bolivia. The town’s groundwater is over-fluoridated and it severely discolors teeth — turning them dark green or brown.

 “Here, we have potable water and take it for granted,” Retis says. “They don’t, and the majority of people suffer from a dental condition that makes them hesitant to even smile.

“The ability to smile is a big thing. It affects their entire lives.”

The Hispanic Student Dental Association is ready to go back to Saavedra in August 2018 and need your help pay for their mission trip.  The students created a crowdfunding initiative on UNLV's Rebel Raiser platform to help. Gifts will be used to help pay for transportation, housing, and dental materials for 12 students and faculty to travel to Saavedra.

Absolute Dental has agreed to match all gifts made by Absolute Dental employees, up to $5,000. 

Major Impact

The impact of the 2017 trip to Bolivia on patients, students, and faculty was profound.   

“We had patients who walked in and they would not even open their mouths. They were too self-conscious,” Retis says. “One 13-year-old girl was still reluctant to smile after treatment, until she was given a mirror and saw herself. She couldn’t believe it. She was so happy she couldn’t stop smiling.”

In four days the group treated 40 patients, doing cleanings, fillings, extractions, and partial veneers.

UNLV faculty advisor Dr. Davin Faulkner says trips like this help people who otherwise wouldn’t get dental care. They also help UNLV students and faculty gain a better understanding of other cultures while improving their Spanish.  

And, says Faulkner, “They experience what true poverty is and develop more compassion because of it. These are things the students normally get very little exposure to in dental school.”

“You can’t overstate how powerful these trips are both for the people who get dental care, and for us,” Retis says. “It makes us understand how important our work can be.”