As if pulling teeth isn’t hard enough, South Lake Tahoe dentist April Westfall will travel to a remote part of Southern Sudan to practice her craft.
“This is my 10th or 11th trip in the last five or six years,” Westfall said.
Westfall has traveled to Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Bolivia, the Galapagos Islands, the Dominican Republic and has taken four trips to Peru to help with the dentistry needs of people in isolated areas. This will be her first trip to Africa.
“We went to a couple villages in Peru where we were the only group that ever came,” Westfall said. “(The patients) had not been seen for at least a year. Some of them may had toothaches for almost a year.”
Westfall studied dentistry at Arizona School of Dentistry. Not long after graduating in 2010, she moved to the Lake Tahoe area, where she worked with the First 5 dental program that provides care to uninsured children. She’s currently raising funds to start a new practice in the area.
Westfall was inspired to take her first trip as a first-year dental student.
“We had an opportunity to go as students, so I signed up for a trip and loved it and just kept on doing it,” she said.
With such a need for care, the trips are incredibly rewarding, and that’s part of the reason she’s kept traveling, she added.
“The places we’ve gone are usually very remote places and they have no dental care at all unless we come,” Westfall said. “I just love being able to use my skill and actually do something for a group of people that otherwise wouldn’t get the help.”
Practicing dentistry in these remote areas is not easy. Dr. Lee Anne Stigers, another South Lake Tahoe dentist, has taken trips to India and Nicaragua to care for teeth.
“Some of the challenges are limited equipment and the extent of dental needs,” Stigers said. “Luckily we do have some traveling equipment.”
In late August, Westfall will head to an orphanage in South Sudan that cares for more than 200 children.
She’s seen pictures of the children and is already expecting some very difficult cases.
“It’s usually pretty drastic situations,” Westfall said. “We do a lot of extractions on children and adults. They just have really, really decayed teeth.”
But there’s something even more nerve-wracking than the challenging work she’ll face.
“It’s mostly the nervousness of getting somewhere that far away, to a place that truly has no resources, and forgetting something,” Westfall said.
Often traveling days on end, the trips aren’t simple. It will take Westfall three days of travel to reach her destination in Sudan. She will work for two weeks before making the long trip home.
“Of course, the travel is interesting and fun, but it’s a lot of hard work,” Westfall said. “It’s not exactly a vacation.”