It’s no doubt that Red Maple Dental has affected the lives—and mouths—of many people in Asheville. However, their efforts go beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the humbled hilltops of Guatemala, where Dr. Shawna Hoffert and her husband, Steve, embarked on a mission to offer their services to those in a less fortunate area of our world.
“It all started when I was a kid. My dentist did a lot of mission work, and I, as a Christian, decided that’s what I wanted to do as well," Dr. Hoffert says. "Unfortunately, my dentist passed away at a young age from a heart condition no one knew he had. I had just gotten into dental school when he passed away and, of course, I went along with my plan to become a dentist.”
As many can relate, life got in the way of Dr. Hoffert’s dream to do mission work.
That is until October of last year when an opportunity arose to travel abroad and provide services for those in need.
“I started an interesting continuing education program called Spear out in Phoenix. I had been going for a while when they mentioned they had a mission aspect to their organization. So I signed up and went down to the very first clinic they opened up.”
It was in Peronia, about an hour outside of Antigua. So far, they’ve opened seven clinics in Guatemala. Spear supports the clinics financially, administratively and also with doctors traveling there to work for them. It was a perfect match for Dr. Hoffert.
“I saw the highs and lows of Guatemala during my commute between Antigua and Peronia,” Dr. Hoffert says. “You walk in the clinic in the morning, and it’s already full of about 50 people just waiting to be seen.”
In a typical day, each dentist would see around 8 to 10 patients, and as they were treating them, Guatemalan students of dentistry would observe and ask questions. This is how the clinic continues long-term dental care, by allowing students to learn from U.S. dentists and raise their level of care to an American standard. At the end of the day, everyone’s mission was the same.
“We were all there making an effort to keep these people healthy, and it was an honor working with such a trusting and loving population,” Dr. Hoffert says.
She says they even made them a home-cooked lunch every day, and after clinic hours, they had the opportunity to explore Antigua.
When asked if they’d be back soon, Dr. Hoffert seemed hopeful.
“We’ll definitely keep doing mission work, but we’re looking at different locations now,” she says.
For many people living in underprivileged areas, finding accessible and affordable dental care can be challenging.
“If the local clinics couldn’t do the treatment, they’d refer patients to the hospital, and there’s such a great barrier for many of them to even get to the hospital. It was such a blessing for us to share our skills and let them be in their own home without having the burden of traveling far to find someone who can do that treatment,” Dr. Hoffert says.
Because of this need, she’s eager to continue mission work where it’s needed.
It wasn’t only medical treatment offered either. One of Dr. Hoffert’s favorite memories actually came from a woman who just wanted to be happier with her smile.
“We had a lady who really wanted her front two teeth fixed just to look better. I spent over an hour doing composites on her front teeth to resurface them, basically giving her veneers. I remember when we were done she was just so happy. She said, ‘Wow I can’t believe you can make me look like this!’”
To learn more about Dr. Hoffert and her practice, visit SmileAsheville.com.