It did not take us long after the launch of our Sonrisa dental hygiene sessions to understand the true depth of the public health system’s failures and see the painful toll it was taking on the poorest children. The children we came across were suffering from a variety of serious problems such as bleeding gums, decayed teeth and oral infections that brushing alone, no matter how regularly, could not solve. More importantly, none of these children had access to any restorative dental care within the public health system.
In October 2005 negotiations started with the Health Department of the San Martin Municipality and Todos Juntos proposed the idea of a fully equipped dental clinic where children from destitute families could come and receive free restorative care. The clinic would be situated in a public health center outside a slum area but would be funded and managed by Todos Juntos. Our hope was that the Project Sonrisa combination – oral hygiene sessions plus free restorative care – could help close the critical gap in the dental care system and slow the progression of the numerous long range effects of tooth decay among children .
In March 2006 we signed our first contract with the Mayor of the Municipality of San Martin for the free use of a small abandoned dental room in a public health center on the outskirts of Slum Carcova (population estimated at 25 000) .
Thanks to extensive fundraising, corporate and private donors, the run down room was completely renovated. Electricity, heating, plumbing were redone . Lead panels put up on the walls to secure them for our X ray machine and a new dental chair and sterilizer installed . The walls were repainted and decorated with child friendly art.
All dental supplies, additional dental equipment and the dentists salary were, and to this day are still,funded entirely with donations made to Todos Juntos.
In October 2006 Sonrisa I was inaugurated and more than 400 children from the slums were treated during the first year. But soon we realized it was just not enough to cope with the never ending list of children waiting for treatment . With the slums growing in numbers and forty per cent of their population estimated to be under 18 year olds our first clinic could not manage the workload.
In October 2007 Todos Juntos opened a second free dental clinic, Sonrisa II outside Slum Hidalgo (population estimated at 35 000) and in December 2009 we opened our third free dental clinic, Sonrisa III, outside Slum Independencia (population estimated at 60 000). From the initial several hundred children treated during the first year, Project Sonrisa has developed and grown to successfully treat thousands of disadvantaged children each year.