Friday, January 20, 2017

Like Pulling Teeth

 I often show my classes DVD clips about my mission trips to Haiti and Honduras. I point out the raggedness of the kids' clothing and lack of shoes, as well as breathtaking smiles in spite of poverty. I also mentioned that sometimes our groups have taken a dentist along to do a different sort of mission. The story of Dr. Paul Straughn, shown above, is told below, originally from 7-25-2006.

Today for me was one many people dread; the trip to the dentist. It wasn't bad; in fact, it was pretty good! I left my car at the Fannin Park-and-Ride and rode the Metrorail into downtown Houston. My dentist is Charles E. Campbell, DDS. I don't like to brag but Dr. Campbell, whose daughters graduated from Westbury Christian School, is consistently listed among Houston's Super Dentists by H Magazine. Everything in his office is set up for the patient's comfort. Muted piano selections were piped in as I watched tropical fish in a beautiful aquarium, waiting to be summoned. Actually, today was simply a cleaning/checkup. My hygienist, Christy, is terrific and always loads me up with dental products as I leave. Dr. Campbell gave me the once over and a no major problems diagnosis, always a blessing...and a relief! I return next week to re-do a filling and have a bonding procedure to repair a small chip. Dr. Campbell's staff is dedicated to making the visit as pleasant as possible and once again, they succeeded. Exiting Scurlock Towers, I made my way to STARBUCKS, a thirty second walk down the block, and celebrated my positive appointment with a Java Chip Frappaccino. It was a good afternoon.

This is Day 2 of the recovery phase from my mission to Honduras. Our trip also included a visit to the dentist for some Hondurans from the hill country around San Marcos de Colon. Paul Straughn, a Nashville dentist, is part of our Shine Mission team. For two days, Paul set up office in a tiny schoolhouse, treating all who came for help. The overwhelming majority of his adult patients had only one treatment in mind- extractions. They are desperate to have their teeth pulled. There is often very primitive dental hygiene among those in poverty. The oral health is staggeringly bad, corresponding to poor overall health. Paul's only recourse in most cases is to pull the offending teeth and relieve the suffering of his one-time patients. It's not possible to fill cavities or construct bridges in that setting so Paul simply does what he can. In America, we try to save our teeth, sometimes with a very expensive price tag. I saw an old Honduran woman who was overjoyed- and proud- of having all her teeth removed. What a contrast. Our society is so fortunate to have at our disposal the latest in preventive dentistry, as well as cosmetic extras like whitening and braces. In my dentist's office, we have cable television with headphones and chairs so comfortable that I fall asleep while being attended to. Paul relies on shots of Novocaine and volunteers from our group to hold the hands of those relinquishing a part of their body which they have carried for decades. I have a confession: I never put my hand up when they ask, "Who wants to work with Paul today?" My squeamishness trumps my faith when it comes to mission trip dentistry. Here's to the Paul Straughn's of the world who lighten the plight of the poor, one extraction at a time. We take so much for granted in this country, including the opportunity to navigate our lifetimes while retaining our own teeth. But more goes into a great smile than just a mouthful of gleaming teeth. We have seen those with perfect dental work whose smile leaves us cold. We have seen those with an empty mouth whose grin warms our souls. I bet I know which face makes the Lord smile.

Applicable quote of the day:
"The poor are desperate to get away and join the rich and have glossy hair, bright eyes, and white teeth. The rich live longer and can afford to be charming." 

Tom Baker

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at


David Michael said...

It is so encouraging to hear about vocational missionaries, using their skills for God!

Jon said...

I hate going to the Dentist

uderhood said...

Very pretty site! Keep working. thnx!