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The Happiest Smile

A Mission Trip to Honduras Changes Lives of Patients and a Local Dentist

Dr. Kevin Nguyen is a dentist and regional doctor mentor at  Lifetime Dental of The Woodlands.  He recently sat down with TWCL after returning from a dental mission trip to Choluteca, Honduras.

How did your involvement with Mission Lazarus come about?

One of the doctors from Heartland Dental, the parent network for our practice, has been traveling to Honduras with his dad for 20-plus years and needed more help. It was a great opportunity to reach out and volunteer my time and services. 

Every day we were up by 6 a.m., working 10-hour days. The work was intense. We did as much as we could to help as many people as possible.

 What were the biggest needs of patients there?

 The most immediate need was relieving dental pain. Treatments ranged from root canal therapy to extraction to really big fillings and crown buildups, which entailed rebuilding the entire tooth. 

The culture and expectations of patients there is very different from ours at home. When they come to a dental office, it means they can no longer take the pain. They’re emotionally down, because they expect the tooth to be pulled. It was great to give them the possibility of saving it. 

Were there any particular cases that stood out to you?

A 12-year-old girl came in for treatment with a great deal of apprehension. Previously she had witnessed her parents and older siblings return from a dental office after having teeth removed, and she was trying to be brave about what might happen. 

We had the opportunity and the supplies to do a root canal and offer care that was not typically provided in her area. It took longer than normal, be we saved the tooth. It was her maxillary first molar, and with the proper care, she’ll get 10, 20, up to 50 years out of it. That’s a huge impact on her quality of life and the nutrition she can receive. Without that molar, she would lose 85 percent of her ability to chew on her right side. 

We also saw a woman in her 30s who had a lot of decay on six of her front teeth. They were dark in color and holes were beginning to form. If we removed the teeth, the challenges were going to be her ability to eat and how the loss would affect her confidence in smiling. So instead of removal, we were able to get everything cleaned out nicely, and we provided dental bondings. It was a full-smile makeover! She now essentially has 6 beautiful veneers.

How has the trip affected you personally and professionally now that you’re back home?

My colleagues and I are now planning to make the trip twice a year, eventually traveling there four times a year. Working with different doctors who didn’t really know each other before, teaming up to use our skill set to help people who otherwise might not receive this level of care. It’s very rewarding!

I love teaching and mentoring other dentists and helping patients. I know I’m making an impact. Whether it’s a patient in Honduras, a patient here in The Woodlands, or someone flying in for care, I’m treating everyone as a family member and providing the best care I can to everyone. 

Tell us about your work here in The Woodlands.

Dr. Lee and I love taking care of our patients and teaching others. Our practice is very well-rounded, yet the work we do can be very specialized. I provide smile makeovers, and I do many full arch implants that enhance my patients’ self-esteem. It’s extremely rewarding to see the weight lifted off a patient’s shoulders when they can finally smile from the inside out. To me that’s something to celebrate!  

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