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Alone and uneducated: Training Bolivian hygienists

Dec. 1, 2009
Welcome to the first column of International Hygiene! I am a practicing dental hygienist, speaker, author, and the current president–elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH).

by Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, MS
[email protected]

Welcome to the first column of International Hygiene! I am a practicing dental hygienist, speaker, author, and the current president–elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH). The IFDH unites dental hygiene associations and dental hygienists from around the world in their common cause of promoting oral health. Go to to learn how to become an individual member of IFDH, as well as access information about the 18th International Symposium on Dental Hygiene (July 1–3, 2010, in Glasgow, Scotland). The symposium is titled, "Oral Health — New Concepts for the New Millennium: New Technology for Preventing and Treating Oral Diseases, Including Alternative Treatments."

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In each column, I will highlight and feature a person, group, or event that focuses on global dental hygiene. By doing so, I hope to unite dental hygienists from around the world in our common cause. Our boundaries and opportunities are endless!

This column features Sandy Kemper, RDH, of Seattle, Washington, and a 2009 winner of Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction. Sandy makes a difference in the United States and Bolivia through her nonprofit organization, "Smiles Forever." A 1999 trip to Bolivia with Dental Outreach was a life–changing experience for Sandy, who was appalled that there was no preventative dental hygiene care in the homeless women's shelter where she worked while in Bolivia. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. In addition, the women from the homeless shelter received no vocational training and most returned to live in the homeless shelter again with their children. They were alone and uneducated.

With the assistance of fellow dental hygienists and other friends, Sandy developed a 501(c)(3), two–year traditional dental hygiene program that has been accepted by the Bolivian government and the Dental Society of Cochabamba. As the students progress through the program, they and the professors (Bolivian dentists who have dental hygiene training) provide preventive and restorative services to approximately 5,000 homeless people every year. To date, they have 20 graduates of the dental hygiene program and have a new class of eight students that will graduate in two years.

In addition to the clinic at the homeless women's shelter, Madre de Dios, Sandy and her team opened a fee–for–service dental clinic with the help of a Rotary International grant. Senior and graduate dental hygienists provide preventive prophylaxis care, and other staff provides restorative care at reasonable fees. The program illustrates to the Bolivian public the skill of the students and graduates, and demonstrates their ability to give back to their own community.

The clinic will help the program attain sustainability. There is also a community service project where Sandy's team provides emergency dental care and fluoride varnish to school children in rural communities outside of Cochabamba.

Dental hygiene students from the United States have participated in this program, giving the American students an incredible opportunity to see the real world. It is vital that the new generation of dental hygienists have an education containing a broad understanding of diverse cultures and the complex health, political, and cultural issues that are a part of their global world.

To learn more about Smiles Forever Bolivia, visit:

Kudos to Sandy, Smiles Forever, Dental Outreach, and all of the individuals who truly make a difference in the world by helping others.

If you know a dental hygienist, group, or event that should be featured in this column, please let me know. And remember, we can all make a difference in the lives of others.

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." Albert Einstein

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Maria Robinson

About the Author

Maria Perno Goldie, RDH, BA, MS, is president elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists. She is also a 2003 winner of the Pfizer/ADHA Award for Excellence in Dental Hygiene. Maria is visiting faculty at the University of Rome for the Interdisciplinary Master's Degree Program in Advanced Technologies in the Sciences of Oral Hygiene and a member of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR). She can be reached at [email protected].