Adventure in Amazonia with CEREC

Author: Dr. Umberto De Luca

At the invitation of the organizers of the traditional Xingu Games (Jogos do Xingu, also called “Indigenous Peoples’ Games”), a team of seven dentists from Doutores Sem Fronteiras (DSF, or Doctors Without Borders, in English) traveled to Kalapalo to provide dental care to the residents of some Kuikuru villages. For the treatments, they were supported by Dentsply Sirona, which provided CEREC devices and the latest dental instruments and materials, among other things. But things did not go quite as planned.

We certainly expected it to be exciting and challenging, taking CAD/CAM technology into the middle of the Amazon Jungle to provide dental care for the indigenous peoples. But on this expedition almost everything went differently than planned. There was a death in one of the native villages, the financing of the venture was uncertain at the start, bad weather made the roads in the region very difficult to travel and in some cases, impassable – the external conditions caused us dentists and the whole team to stand there with bated breath.

But on May 5, we set off for Goiânia. Our destination was the Clinic for Esthetic Dentistry and Implantology, “Clinica Spa Relancer da Silvinha”. All the equipment was sent by Dentsply-Sirona in April but with all the unforeseen we were only able to get to Goiânia on May 6. From there, we headed to Querência in the federal state of Mato Grosso, a thousand km journey by bus that took 15 hours. Around 9:00 o’clock we loaded it up with our equipment, which included, among other things, a CEREC imaging unit with the Omnicam and a CEREC MC XL milling unit. After an extremely difficult journey, we reached our destination after midnight.

The next morning, we met the mayor of Querência, the tribal chief of the Kakuros and several others indigenous people from the region, to discuss our mission among the Kuikuro people. The weather was not on our side: heavy rains made the roads to our final destination impassable, and there was no ferry available. For the sake of the good cause we were pursuing, the mayor even tried to move the Xingu games to another village, so that we could get there in time – but to no avail.

Then we had yet another delay and only on May 8th, were we able to head for a jetty in three small trucks to the Kruene tribe near the river Xingu where we should take the small boats. After another long wait and some uncertainty about a suitable means of transport, we finally headed for our destination, the village of Kuikuro, 4 hours navigation in two small boats full of equipment.

At the end of this very adventurous journey, it was already night when we docked in a curve of the river and unloaded our equipment. We were not actually expecting it, but much to our surprise, there was an off-road vehicle waiting for us. We loaded up our CEREC equipment and invited the ladies among us to get into the vehicle – we men would wait until the vehicle got back to fetch us with the rest of our equipment. This would prove to be an adventure all of its own, we were waiting for a long time and had already begun searching for firewood, to light a campfire. But at last, two of the locals came and asked us for help: the off-road vehicle had gotten stuck in the mud on the way back to us. In a united effort, we managed to get the vehicle out of the mud, loaded up our gear and finally reached the village. As expected, the generator was not working, and it turned out to be a night of improvisation.

The next day, we started setting up our equipment under a very hot environment, connected the compressor and the other units. This included connecting the CEREC imaging unit, with the Omnicam, to the milling machine. In this regard, my comprehensive experience with the system enabled us to get it up and running without any hitches, and we were ready to start at last.

In order to help as many patients as possible, we classified the local people who turned up, according to their complaints and we began to treat them, one after the other.

Until then, we had overcome so many obstacles, but what we experienced while treating the patients is very hard to express in words: for the indigenous people on site, it was one of very few opportunities to ever have access to dental care. Therefore, they were grateful and overjoyed that they were able to receive such quick, safe treatment. What we take for granted takes on a whole new meaning in these regions – and everyone in the team was reminded of this once again. While we struggled a bit with the fact that we were only able to offer our help for two days, the indigenous people were really happy that at least some of them could receive treatment, that toothache or larger problems could be dealt with, and that they were spared a long journey to the nearest dental clinic. Their joy also brought a smile to our faces.

A peculiar fact that we have to mention is the robustness of the CEREC system, which despite the power outages and the intense heat, did not cause any problems during the whole expedition.

We were even happier that the local officials invited the Doutores Sem Fronteiras (Doctors Without Borders) team to come back soon.

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