Teaching Dental Care to Children in Guatemala

Had I been one of the second graders, sitting there staring down that menacing set of oversized demonstration teeth, I would have been terrified. It almost looks like if you get close enough, the demonstration teeth could easily bite off your hand. But, much to my amazement, the kids in our class showed few qualms about marching on up to the front of the room and giving the false teeth a good pretend brushing!

Last month marked the first dental hygiene lessons in our recently launched health program. We’re Manna Project International, and we run holistic development projects in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Guatemala. In Guatemala, where I work, we run English, health, business development, and environmental programs. Our health program is especially important because preventative health is an area overlooked by the limited infrastructure in Guatemala. After age five children no longer receive regular medical attention, and they often don’t return to the doctor or dentist until a serious problem has developed. In our classes we hope to encourage habits that promote good health and teach early warning signs of serious medical issues.

Recently we worked with first and second grade students at a local elementary school and taught them how to take care of their teeth, why it’s important, and how it can be fun. Soon we will be working with third and fourth graders, and next month we’ll finish off the dental talks with the fifth and sixth grade students. A dentist (and father of one of our employees) generously donated enough dental supplies for all of the students at the school, and we are handing out after each dental hygiene talk. After participating each child receives a toothbrush, two tubes of toothpaste, a two-minute timer, floss, a pencil, and a rubber toy frog (the favorite item in the goodie bag).

Even more awesome than the rubber toy frogs, we now have plans to expand our health program to a second elementary school beginning in May! Through this expansion, our health program will reach approximately 400 more students. As we continue to work on creating a program structure, curriculum and activities, all is being planned with the idea of keeping things simple and easily replicable so that we can train local community health promoters to eventually take our place.

Not all comes without challenges, however. One of the most pressing concerns about the health program is how to obtain materials like toothpaste and floss that we would like to give out to all of the students after each lesson. While building habits and providing them with the necessary tools to practice preventative health, most families cannot afford to keep buying toothpaste. We’ve had similar problems with toothbrushes, bars of soap, and sanitary pads and are still researching sustainable alternatives to expensive brand name products.

At any rate, we are very enthusiastic about our growing health program and its potential. Can’t wait to pull out the demonstration teeth tomorrow for another good scrubbing!

Hasta pronto,
Karen & The MPI Guatemala Team

MPI’s mission is to foster communities of young adults and encourage them to use their passions and education in service to communities in need. For more information, visit mannaproject.org.


Photo courtesy of Manna Project International
NOTE: This is a guest post from Karen Baker, Program Director for Manna Project International: Guatemala.


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Brittany Sanders
Brittany Sanders6 years ago

I have read this article before and I really salute those hygiene coaching company who helped children in Guatemala.

Michael John N.
M,chael N7 years ago

Two alternatives to toothpaste - one free and the otehr almost free. The first is urine. The second is salt water. Also, tooth powder (powder fro cleaning teeth) is much cheaper and much pbetter than toothpaste.

Dawn Break
Dawn Break8 years ago

So glad to see dental health education provided. Good work.

Valerie G.
Valerie G8 years ago

Excellent. Thank you Karen & The MPI Guatemala Team!
And Emily for posting this!