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Dental students lend helping hands in Honduras

Photos and Story by

Cara Kao-Young and Anne Jackson

This spring, nine students joined instructor Cara Kao-Young on an eight-day trip back to the village of Moroceli. The year before, a different group of students went to help a dentist from Medical Teams International to assess the village’s children and perform sealant work (see their story). They plan to go back next year to continue their survey of the village’s children.

This year, they took a follow-up trip to Honduras to check on the children’s dental work. Kao-Young partnered with local dentists in the Honduras village via the Chain of Love agency and the Health Ministry of Honduras. It was a chance for Kao-Young and her students to see how the children are progressing in their oral health.

“First time around we wanted to see how much oral disease they had,” she said. “It was exciting for us to examine their teeth again.”

Their mission is to help poor children get the dental care they need. In total, the group served more than 200 youths, working mostly on children who have never seen a dentist before. It’s not just a benefit to the children but to the PCC students as well. They were completely immersed in a new culture.

“It was a challenge for us but the students were awesome,” said Kao-Young. “A few of the students had never been outside of the country before. It’s all about developing relationships with the kids and the community. It’s a big reward for our students.”

The first two trips to Honduras have been such a success that future plans call for establishing partnerships in El Salvador and Bolivia. For the El Salvador trip, students will train for six weeks with Medical Teams International on how to provide oral health training to the locals. The students and Kao-Young will lead education workshops for social workers in 15 local villages. They will give the workers the basics in finding urgent need in their area and how to assess oral health in children and infants.

“Malnutrition is a big problem there,” said Kao-Young. “And malnutrition is connected to oral health.”


Kao-Young is a 1990 PCC graduate of the dental hygiene program and has been an instructor for the past six years. Her community-oriented philosophy has meshed well with the program, which had all of its 20 students register a 100-percent pass rate on their second national board exams this year.

“That is Cara’s strength – community dental health area,” said retired Dental Program Director Anne Jackson.

Jackson herself helped pioneer the international philosophy with trips to Eastern Europe. This year, she traveled back to Romania with Medical Teams International where she joined Weston Herringer of Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry, and nine PCC students to provide much-needed dental work to the children of a village. Even Josette Beach, the interim director of the program, has organized similar trips to Cambodia.

“We thought it would be such a great opportunity for the students and we have so many who want to go,” said Jackson, who has worked at PCC for nearly 30 years and is currently working part-time in semi-retirement. “We’ll start looking on how to expand it so that more students can be involved. We try to get the students immersed in the culture so they can see how people really live.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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