Local Dentist Improves Smiles Around the World
Dr. James Fetsch and other O'Fallon volunteers make yearly mission trips to provide affordable dental care to those in need in other countries.
Most days you can find Dr. James Fetsch in his office at Deer Creek Dental on Highway K, but once a year the dentist packs up his tools and heads out to provide healthy smiles outside of O'Fallon. For the past five years, Fetsch and a team of volunteers have made annual mission trips to Honduras, where they perform numerous dental procedures for villagers in need.
In January 2005, Fetsch's church, SunRise Methodist formed a team and journeyed to Talanga, Honduras for their first dental mission. Usually leaving on a Saturday, the group spends the majority of the day traveling to the village, setting up on Sunday and starts treating patients on Monday.
Fetsch said the team usually consists of himself, dentist Dr. Paul Moore, retired dentist Dr. Norm Freiberger, interpretors, assistants and other volunteers.
After Fetsch and members of his church researched mission trips, he decided to shadow a medical mission trip to figure out how a dental oriented clinic would work. One of the major differences between a medical and dental clinic is the amount of equipment required. Dentists need a variety of tools and equipment to properly treat patients. The team travels with a portable X-ray machine and dental units.
"We usually have to go down with 12 to 14 people and everyone donates one of their (carry-on) bags for supplies," Fetsch said. "We just packed suitcases full of cotton gauze to anesthetic to dental instruments... that's how we ship it down there."
Fetsch said while there are dentists in Honduras, dental procedures can be quite costly and most people cannot afford them. A simple tooth extraction may cost upwards $30 (U.S. dollars), which is the annual salary of most Hondurans. "They have to choose between either receiving dental care or feeding their families," Fetsch said.
He added, that many people choose to forego dental care altogether and buy dentures, which are much more affordable; however, many still require the costly tooth extractions.
"Dr. Moore does all the fillings and I do all the extractions," Fetsch said. Dr. Frieberger performs exams and acts as the liaison between the doctors and the patients. Predominately, the two dentists do fillings, extractions and root canals and anything that can be done within one day.
Fetsch said that the mission work that takes them out of the country requires liaisons, which is where the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) come into play. "We need a connection. You can't just go into a foreign country, show up and say, 'I'm here to help.' They actually have two or three people that live in Honduras that are onsite coordinators."
The onsite coordinators help organize the clinic by filing paperwork or procuring translators. Fetsch said Sunrise Methodist Church also teams up with the Methodist church in Talanga. The members of the church help organize the event by spreading the word about the arrival of the mission team. When the dental team arrives, many Hondurans have already made their way to the village to receive treatments.
"In a week's time, we will typically see 400 or so patients," Fetsch said. "It usually is just under a hundred patients a day when we are down there."
Of these hundreds of patients Fetsch has treated throughout the years, he recalls his experiences with a few quite vividly.
"Last year, a family came to us on a Tuesday," Fetsch said. "The couple and their teenage daughter required a great deal of dental work. The daughter had cavities in every single one of her front teeth."
With the day coming to a close, the family still needed work done. When the team asked to come back the next day, the family told the dental team just how long it had taken them to get to Talanga.
They had walked three hours to the bus stop, spent two hours on the bus followed, by an hour of walking to the village. But the family returned to the village on Thursday, where the dentists finished up by performing six root canals and many fillings.
"She may keep her teeth another 25 or 30 years," Fetsch said, adding if the daughter had not received assistance, she may have lost all of her teeth at 13 years old.
Because he was unable to take a mission trip this last year, Dr. Fetsch spearheaded a free dental clinic in O'Fallon, that served over 200 needy people throughout the St. Louis area. The patients received their exams at the SunRise Methodist Church and then were bused to the Deer Creek Dental offices to receive treatment.
Fetsch said there is such a need for affordable dental care and the clinic received such an overwhelming response, he is already planning another clinic in O'Fallon for July.
Next year's mission trip is already planned. "We will be taking the VBS (vacation bible school) with us," Fetsch said. He explained that 10 to 15 people will be teaching the village children about Christianity and related vacation bible study topics. The children's school break coincides with the time frame of the clinic. In addition, "handy helpers" go with the dental team to make repairs and improvements to the Talanga Methodist Church.
To learn more about the mission trips or how to get involved, you may visit the SunRise Methodist Church Web site. You can also follow their blog.