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Jamaica dentist treats hundreds of patients in Haiti

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Jamaica dentist Dr. Kevin J. Grant said he will never forget the faces of Haiti after he recently traveled to the troubled island nation to help those in pain.

Grant said he and his team saw 263 patients in Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, and saved 121 baby teeth and 51 permanent teeth. He also extracted nearly 150 teeth.

“These people haven’t seen a dentist in all their lives,” Grant said in a telephone interview Friday.

With no water or electricity, Grant attached lights to his head and did fillings and restorations using hand instruments. To sterilize the instruments, he used a pressure cooker and propane tank.

“We saved a lot of teeth, but we took most of them out,” he said, noting some of the patients he treated were in pain or had pus and infection.

Grant arrived in Haiti March 21 with a group called Operation Smile, which he hooked up with through the American Dental Association’s Web site.

The organization was the first group of volunteer dentists to arrive in the damaged country nearly four months after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Grant, 46, said the experience showed him how the stresses in his life, such as paying the mortgage on his Jamaica office at 87-52A Parsons Blvd., paled in comparison to the problems in Haiti.

“It made me realize how silly my worries are,” he said. “Their worries are more pressing.”

He said the patients, especially children, reacted differently when getting shots of anesthetic than those at his Jamaica practice because Haitians are used to suffering while Americans lead more protected lives.

“The kids just — they made a little squeak, but no one grabbed my hand,” he said.

Grant said sugar cane, a major staple in Haiti, was the main cause of tooth decay of his patients there. His Haitian patients received toothbrushes and toothpaste and received tips on caring for their teeth.

“A lot of it was home care instruction,” Grant said.

Grant, who volunteered his dental expertise in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said he plans to return to Haiti and lend his hand in other impoverished countries.

Dentists are “needed everywhere, [but] Haiti is in the forefront of my mind,” he said.

“God has blessed me twice all over,” Grant said. “I’m already blessed and I need to share that love. I believe in karma and giving back.”

Grant worked in Haiti with 16 others — five dentists, eight pre-dental students from Ohio State University and three hygienists.

“We worked a well-oiled machine,” he said. “There was no ego.”

To communicate with his patients, Grant said he learned the main terms he needed to know in Creole: “spit,” “sit,” “lay back” and “Where does it hurt?”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 5:54 pm, October 10, 2011
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