August 15, 2015

Ngo Borders in El Salvador

Ngo Borders’ 15th dental mission trip was to El Cuco, El Salvador. We worked with Dr. John Leland from San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Leland built a home and mobile dental unit in the small town of El Cuco and hosts small mission teams a couple times a year to help the underserved population. Our team traveled from Florida with a crew of 3 dentists and 4 assistants.


11:52 pm: Spirit Air flight from Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) to San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL). The seats do not recline, but they are new and clean. The positive side of flying at midnight is that the day’s exhaustion helps you fall asleep easily in an upright chair.

12:28 am: Arrival into San Salvador with a two hour time difference. The customs line takes 2 hours, in a dim yellow lit room.

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3:00 am: Start the drive to El Cuco

4:45 am: Arrival at Leland Dental Center, our home and clinic site.

12:00 pm: Wake up for breakfast. Tour dental mobile clinic, explore the house, beach and local town.

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The back doorsteps of our house
The back doorsteps of our house
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El Cuco is the cutest small beach town

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6:00 am: Wake up

6:30 am: Group breakfast

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Eggs, refried beans, plantains, fruit, bread, coffee

7:00 am: Fit 9 people into a small sedan and drive to a nearby school. Visit 6 classrooms, give oral hygiene instruction, distribute toothbrushes and toothpastes. Teach children how to take selfies. Laugh. A lot.

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10:00 am: Fit the same 9 people back into the clown car, I mean, sedan and drive to another school. Play futbol with some local kids while waiting for the classrooms to congregate for a dental assembly.

10:30 am: Teach children from multiple grade levels the importance of a low sugar diet (No Candy! Soda is bad!) and oral hygiene. Distributed toothbrushes and toothpastes. Lots of hugs.

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12:00 pm: Lunch at home, cartwheels on the beach to help digest.


2:00 pm: First patient. Pull teeth. Do a root canal. Redesign some smiles. This was the most luxurious dental mission we have ever performed. Never before have we had access to radiographs or been able to perform endodontic procedures in the field.

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6:00 pm: Group dinner.

6:30 pm: Hammock. Pool. Run up and down the steep staircase in an attempt to work off those plantains and tortillas.

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6:00 am: Wake up call

6:30 am: Group breakfast

7:00 am: First patient. Pull teeth. Fill teeth. Give out toothbrushes and toothpastes. Practice Spanish.

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I didn’t bring my loupes with the headlight, but our patients were very accommodating by holding a flashlight for us while we extract their teeth! Not the first time we have had to adapt and work with what we have!

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An example of our morning schedule from 7:00 am- 12:00 pm (3 dentists):

– 27 total patients

– 6 deep cleanings (SRP)

– 20 restorations (composite and amalgam)

– 34 teeth extracted

– 1 molar root canal

5:00 pm: Venture into the town and visit the beachfront seafood restaurants.

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 Learn how to make Coctel de concha, a type of Clam Ceviche from local Black Clams. The clam, which is called a Concha, is black, as well as the liquid inside of it. It is made using raw freshly harvested clams, lime juice, onions, tomato and El Salvadoran worcestershire sauce. The locals use a cool shell slicing contraption to open the concha, pictured below.


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 DAY 4

6:00 am: Wake up, breakfast

7:00 am: Patients are all lined up and waiting for treatment. Each day, a truck is provided to a small neighboring town to bring ~60 patients to our clinic. Everyone stays for the entire day to carpool back together.

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This day was our busiest. We saw over 60 patients, performed an incision and drainage on a very large abscess and even brought one chair outside of the truck to have more patients seated for treatment!


Our lunch was grilled Corvina, a local white fish. Delicioso!

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Almost all of our free time after work was spent at the beautiful beach in our backyard.

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 After a few days of working, we started to settle into our own routines. I screened every patient, honing in on my Spanish speaking. Each doctor settled into his or her own chair and our work flow ran quicker.

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I was so proud of my Dental Spanish, but for the life of me could not think of the way to say “Tooth fairy”. Google Translate to the rescue:

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The black sand beaches of El Cuco were the perfect way to cool down after working in 95F+ degree weather with no air-conditioning and hard hard work.

After a successful work week of treating over 175 patients, we bid “Adios” to the LDC team in El Cuco and traveled 3 hours to Suchitoto, a small colonial town 29 miles north of San Salvador.

We rented a van from National, by the San Salvador Airport and drove a stick-shift car through the streets of San Marcos, San Salvador up to Suchitoto.

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Suchitoto is full of cobblestone lined streets, brightly painted shoppes and the cleanest, most whitest church, Iglesia Santa Lucia.

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About 9 minutes drive outside of town, Cascada Los Tercios is a unique waterfall composed of large hexagonal rock columns (although this is what is listed online, we only counted 5 sides to the rocks we encountered). It reminded me of Kryptonite and Superman. The waterfall typically has water flowing from May- November with July being the best month to see it, but due to this year’s drought conditions, it was completely barren. However, this allowed us to carefully examine the beautiful rocks and climb the 30 foot+ vertical wall without worrying of slipping on slick rocks. The unique shape of the rocks are believed to have been formed by rapidly cooling ancient magma (volcanic activity). Another example of this is in Ireland, at Giant’s Causeway. We were the only people visiting this site, and had a local man carrying a large machete showing us the way to hike down. It was a little nerve racking being out in the wilderness with a strange man and his dog (named Terrible, no joke) but he treated us kindly.

It’s a bit difficult to find, so when you are driving down the dirt road where it is listed to be on the Left side, look for a brown wooden sign with hand written “Cascada Los Tercios”. It will be camouflaged and the road will be blocked off with wire and sticks. Wait a few moments and that machete man will open the gates to a mini parking lot. Don’t go driving all along the empty roads looking for a parallel parking spot, they’re non-existent.

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Did you think I would write an entire article on El Salvador and not include the National food?

Pupusas are thick hand flattened corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat, veggies or beans. They are served with curtido, a veggie slaw. Two pupusas cost us $0.75 USD. Note the cute aprons all the local ladies wear, regardless of age or location (kitchen or street).

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Gloria has a little food shack in the main plaza of Suchitoto. I have reason to believe we completely depleted her entire inventory of black clams… We ordered 6 dozen Cocteles de Conchas for each meal! Muchas gracias, Gloria!

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Lake Suchitlan from Suchitoto


Our 15th dental mission was a success. We are truly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel globally and use our trained skills to help those in need. Muchas gracias al Dr. John, Carla, Alcides y su familia por todo lo que la semana pasada. Apreciamos su ayuda y esperamos trabajar con usted de nuevo pronto.

Thank you to Dr. Anhhuy Nguyen of Noble Dental in Wellington, FL and Dr. Tuong-Ai Margie Ngo of Noble Dental in Delray Beach, FL for participating and organizing this trip. We would not have been able to see 175 patients without you! Your clinical skills and efficiency are unmatched. I look forward to our next mission together!

Thank you to Dr. Catherine Phan, of Majestic Dental in Gurnee, Illinois, for her generous donation of toothbrushes and toothpaste. She supplied us with so many donations that we had to check a separate luggage for it.

Thank you also to Nina Dang, P.A., for her donations of children’s clothing which we donated to impoverished areas adjacent to El Cuco.

If you are interested in joining a future dental mission with us, please send us a message via the Contacts page!

Hasta la proxima,

Dr. Mel