Loma Linda Team Provides Free Dental Services to Hundreds in Cuba

A team of students and faculty held clinics in coordination with public health officials.

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News
Loma Linda Team Provides Free Dental Services to Hundreds in Cuba
Part of the team of students and faculty from Loma Linda University stand in the Adventist Theological Seminary in Cuba. The team set up a dental health fair to provide free services in Havana. [Photo: Loma Linda University]

A group of students and faculty from Loma Linda University’s School of Dentistry recently traveled to Havana, Cuba, to take part in the first-ever dental health fair. The two four-day clinics were coordinated with the Cuban Union of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Office of Religious Affairs and Public Health in Cuba. More than 300 people received free dental care during the fair, organizers said.

Gary A. Kerstetter, Loma Linda University School of Dentistry director and professor, along with a team composed of third- and fourth-year dentistry students, performed fillings, cleanings, and extractions. A handful of local Adventist dentists and professionals assisted with the procedures. The clinics were held at Adventist Theological Seminary in Havana (SETAC) and at Public Health Clinic in the Boyeros Municipality in Havana. The team also provided oral health education for each patient.

“We have been able to be part of a mission of dentistry work, providing clinical experience for our students where they can do procedures on patients and also have an opportunity for culture experience in a different country, where they can help people in another situation,” Kerstetter said.

The team from Loma Linda brought a portable X-ray machine, dental tools, equipment, and supplies, Kerstetter said. “We had six to eight patients being seen on five chairs each day, and they were so appreciative to our team for the work they performed on them.”

The clinics were historic and extraordinary, said Orquídea Ferrer Hurtado, director of Christian Medical Services Network, an organization that organizes health professionals through the Cuban public health ministry.

Ferrer, who also is a professor at the School of Dentistry in Havana, said the intervention led by the Loma Linda University team meant a lot to her and the 10 health professionals who joined in to help with the dental clinics. “We were able to assist and share professional experiences and how things work here,” Ferrer said. “They learned from us, and we learned from them, and that’s what it’s all about.”

“I am more than grateful to God and these students who came to help us, who did magnificent work on me and my children,” Yaremis Leyva Ross, a local resident, said.

“This health fair has opened a door here,” Heber Paneque, health ministries director of the Cuban Union, said. Church members and people in the community were among the patients who benefited from the dental health fair. “We are incredibly thankful and saw how it made so many people happy and could sense that the government authorities were also pleased with the oral health fair,” he said. “We know that it will open new doors for Loma Linda University to continue serving humanity the way God wants us to do for the world.”

Obed Carrera, program manager for Loma Linda University Students for International Mission Service, said there have been several trips to Cuba during the past six years. Among them were multidisciplinary mission trips twice a year, but this year brought a new level of medical care services, he said. Carrera and Kerstetter traveled to Cuba a month before the clinics to go over logistics with local church leaders and government officials.

Crystal Robinson, who traveled as a nurse for the team and has been part of logistics mission trips to Cuba for several years, said the latest trip has been a blessing. “Students remember most the people’s resiliency and see how happy and appreciative they are, and willing to give you whatever they have to show gratitude,” Robinson said.

“It has been a life-changing trip for us,” Kerstetter said. “We hope to have more opportunities to show a little bit of human compassion for the people in Cuba.”

Dayami Rodriguez contributed information to this report. The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News