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Dr. Paul Schoenbeck brings hi-tech dentistry to the Dominican Republic - North Country Dental founder extends reach from New Hampshire to third world country

Dominican Republic - Dr. Paul C. Schoenbeck recently became part of the largest humanitarian effort in the world by joining forces with other medical professionals on the USNS Comfort for Project Continuing Promise 2009 in the Dominican Republic. The Comfort, one of the two largest hospital ships in the world, is on a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean in support of Continuing Promise 2009.

Dr. Schoenbeck was invited to join the USNS Comfort project as a certified trainer and recognized CEREC expert to train the US Navy dentists on CEREC technology and to introduce the technology to the Dominican Republic. Dr. Schoenbeck was part of a group of dentists, physicians, veterinarians, pharmacists, optometrists, engineers, and others in the healthcare fields, who had over 40,000 healthcare encounters, 10,000 patient encounters, and 1000 animal treatments. He spent two days on the ship teaching and training Navy dentists and Dominican medical dignitaries and students and four days on the island in a field hospital providing dental care to the poorest of the Dominican people.

USNS Comfort and her sister ship, USNS Mercy, are converted oil tankers. They are operated and navigated by civil service mariners from the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command. The operating rooms on the ship started procedures at 6am and continued past 5pm. Lectures, instruction and demonstrations were also provided to medical dignitaries on USNS Comfort. Schoenbeck trained Dr. Erick Nuñez, the Director General of Medicine and Dentistry for the Dominican military, in CEREC. "It was a big honor for me," Dr. Schoenbeck stated. "It was the first time CEREC had been to the Dominican Republic. He was very impressed and wants to acquire the technology as soon as possible." Another honor for Schoenbeck was to train Dr. Johanna Diaz, Dean of the Dominican Republic School of Dentistry, in CEREC. Dr. Diaz, five professors and thirteen dental school students attended a two-day educational seminar on board, as part of the Educational Partnership with the Dominican Republic School of Dentistry. Dr. Schoenbeck spent two days on board Comfort giving CEREC presentations and demonstrations, which included two live patient CEREC restorations.

There are four thousand dentists for a population of nine million, and thirteen dental schools in the Dominican Republic. But access for many people is difficult. A field hospital was set up for the Comfort medical providers in a dilapidated sports complex built for the 2003 Pan-Am games. Thousands of Dominicans lined up for care. Dr. Schoenbeck's unit, which included two Dominican dentists, saw 92 patients in one day alone. "The people started lining up in front of the complex around three or four in the morning," said Schoenbeck. "We couldn't see everyone so they kept coming back every day. Every day the line got longer and longer. There was no running water in the complex. There were no bathroom facilities, either. Most of the people I saw had never seen a dentist. Some had seen a dentist through other humanitarian efforts or at the dental schools. It was a real experience."

The unit's accomplishments totaled 1,917 patient encounters; 5,508 dental services rendered; 1,159 exams performed; and 1,851 oral hygiene instructions, 2,044 fluoride varnishes, 342 cleanings, 371 fillings, and 466 extractions provided. The total dollar value for dental services and treatments was $324,819.00.

"I really appreciated the interaction of the military people and the other volunteers," Schoenbeck said. "Everyone cares so much about this mission and everybody really cares about these people. They (Dominicans) were very grateful. To tell you the truth, it's a tough job. It was a 14 to 18 hour day. You get up at 5 o'clock, go out to the facility on the tender boat, you work all day, there are no toilets, no running water. At the end of the day, you clean up, pack up and try to get back to the ship by 5. We'd eat dinner, then have staff meetings. You're not really done till 8 o'clock at night."

There was plenty of humor and companionship to enjoy, as well. One memorable moment came when Dr. Schoenbeck was introduced to military rations called MRE at the field hospital. According to military personnel, MRE was short for 'Meals Rejected by Ethiopians'. "But there was nothing wrong with them, they were actually pretty good," laughed Schoenbeck.

Comfort and Mercy trade off trips each year. Comfort operates out of the East Coast and Mercy out of the West Coast. Each trip is a year in the making. Delicate and detailed negotiations are held with diplomatic agencies and government ministries to allow the floating hospitals to provide the humanitarian services so many in the world depend on.

Comfort is scheduled to go out again in 2011. And if Dr. Schoenbeck has his way, he'll be sailing with her when she does.

For more information on Dr. Paul Schoenbeck, go to www.northcountrydental.com. For more information on Project Continuing Promise 2009, go to southcom.mil.


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