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Volunteering Dentistry: The Semiahmoo Dental Outreach to Peru

The Team

The Team

The Semiahmoo Dental Outreach mission to Peru recently provided care at two sites. Funding in part was provided by the International College of Dentists (Canadian Section) through the W.J. Spence- ICD Memorial Foundation.

Semiahmoo Dental Outreach Clinic

Iquitos, Peru, 2015

Dr. Ken Stones

Dr. Ken Stones

In early June, 2015, the Semiahmoo Dental Outreach (SDO) team ventured to Iquitos, Peru for the first time. With a population of 500,000, Iquitos is the largest city in the world without road access. At the upper end of the navigable Amazon River, it is only about 300 feet above sea level, with a deep water port 3600 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, 23 days by cargo ship. The river rises and falls over 40 feet each year, its high water occurring about the end of May.

The Team

Waiting for Treatment

Waiting for Treatment

We were seven dentists, three hygienists, two chair side dental assistants, with several additional volunteers. These included three ICD fellows: Les Ennis, David Larsen, and Ken Stones. We brought equipment and supplies for seven operatories, and over a week treated 275 patients, with a BC fee guide value of $99,567. Our focus, as always, was prevention and restorative treatment, with extractions as required and some endodontic treatment too. Other international groups are also attempting to help the people of Iquitos. We discovered that the “Amazon Promise” group provides another dental clinic (www.amazonpromise.org).


The Clinic

Preventive Care

Preventive Care

Our clinic was set up in the facilities of the “People of Peru Project” (www.peopleofperu.org). The team worked extremely well together adapting to the hot, humid, rainy and muddy conditions. There are always interesting challenges when working in a new location, and this was no exception. The clinic required a lot of work to get it ready; Rick, Sue and Ken spent three days to have it open for the Monday start. The biggest challenge was repairing the compressor and hoses: it was a creative process that involved sourcing some of the unusual parts required and then installing them. We did manage to get operational for the scheduled opening of the clinic.

Another challenge was that for most of the week, locals were blocking the road that gave access to the clinic. This was in protest against the roads terrible condition. Huge muddy potholes impeded travel and caused trucks to overturn daily. As a result, we could not bus patients to the clinic as planned. Fortunately we were kept busy by the numerous patients who lived nearby. The roadblock did open up for the dental team as they recognized the value in our work. The food truck with our lunch, however, was not permitted passage. The driver and food crew had to turn back, but returned dressed in scrubs and were then allowed to pass and feed the hungry team. All in all, it was a very successful clinic. We rose to the challenge and

Drs. David Larsen, Ken Stones, Les Ennis

Drs. David Larsen, Ken Stones, Les Ennis

assisted many people.

Our Patients

Iquitos has many displaced indigenous people who have had to leave the rainforest to try to find employment to support their families. This has resulted in a large number of very poor people who totally lack health care. None of our patients could afford their required dental care. The majority had not had previous dental treatment. We treated these local residents and, after camping overnight in a village on the Amazon, the next day we also treated the locals there.

We sincerely thank the Canadian section of the ICD for their support.

Report by Ken Stones

Photography by Les Ennis



  1. john a purc September 16, 2015

    Volunteer dentistry is so rewarding because it helps to alleviate pain and raise the self esteem of the patient.There is quite a need for it abroad, but also in our own country. A group of volunteer dentists of which I am a part of staff a volunteer dental clinic. This clinic has 2 ops, and is funded by service clubs, private donations, fund raising events and grants. It started in 2011 and has treated close to 500 patients. This clinic is in a small community in central Ontario in the village of Haliburton. At this point in time we need more dentists. Let us not forget that there are people in our province who do not have the ability to pay for dental services

    1. Doug Cowdrey September 16, 2015

      John what are your current professional needs in Haliburton?

    2. Les Ennis September 16, 2015

      Hi John,
      It is not lost on us the need for local volunteerism as well. Both myself and Dave Larsen regularly volunteer at a free clinic run by the Native Health Society in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (poorest postal code in Canada). Ken Stones, the third ICD Fellow from our trip runs a free dental clinic out of Peach Arch Hospital in White Rock BC whose patients are screened by Sources Community Resources Centre, a local non profit agency. Philanthropy and giving back should be an integral part of our profession. To that end our team, Semiahmoo Dental Outreach regularly takes 4th year UBC dental students with us on our overseas trips so they can first hand experience giving back and hopefully this will engender a future cohort of dentists of like mind. For our next trip in April 2016 we are taking 3 UBC students to Vietnam.

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