LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A young local dentist is preparing to leave later this month to take part in a humanitarian mission to Colombia.
Levi Palmer, 38, will go to Colombia April 14-24, where he and a cohort of about 10 dentists and up to 40 dental students will bring much-needed emergency dental care to residents of the Cartagena area.
Beginning in 2000 – when he was a dental student at the University of Southern California – Palmer has taken such trips about once a year with AYUDA International Dental Clinics, a nonprofit organization that holds dental clinics worldwide.
The group’s Web site, http://www.smilesforall.net/ayuda/about.html, reported that over the past four decades AYUDA has helped more than 200,000 dental patients.
This is Palmer’s first trip to South America. He previously traveled to areas including Mexico and Central America, seeing as many as 1,000 patients during his last mission.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” he said.
The clinics in Colombia will be held in facilities provided by the Fundacion Granitos de Paz, a group that serves the poor.
Palmer’s wife, Christina, has accompanied him on previous missions, but this time around Christina will be staying home for an important reason – the couple is expecting their first child later this year.
A video made by Christina Palmer about the AYUDA dental mission to Belize and Guatemala in 2011 can be seen above.
Levi Palmer followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a dentist. Roger Palmer was a popular dentist who practiced in Kelseyville until his death several years ago.
He took over his father’s practice but later pursued a residency in pediatric dentistry. Today, Levi Palmer’s practice in downtown Lakeport is the only one in Lake County dedicated to pediatric dentistry.
“I love my job,” he said.
Fitting well with Palmer’s specialty, the AYUDA dental clinic in Colombia will see mostly children – about 90 percent, Palmer estimated – but some adults, too.
“There’s a lot of kids with pain down there,” he said.
Children who have dental pain, he added, have been shown to not do as well in school. Many children also are afraid of saying anything because of fear of going to the dentist.
Typically the clinic’s dentists will pull a lot of teeth, and do fillings and crowns. He said they focus on preserving adult molars, which are the teeth that the children will have for the rest of their lives and which therefore are critical.
Palmer said there is always a line of people waiting for help, and the clinic staff will work five to six days in a row, as long as 11 hours a day.
“At the end of five days we’re pretty tired,” he said.
Each year Palmer, along with paying for his own trip, offers a scholarship for a dental student to take part in one of the missions.
He said he enjoys having the opportunity to see the students working and helping patients.
Each of the participating dentists also chips in to cover the food for all three dozen or so students for one day, he said.
“It’s just such a cool experience,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Incidentally, Palmer and the team of dentists and dental students will be arriving in Colombia just as the Summit of the Americas – a summit of 34 of the countries in the Americas – is in session. President Barack Obama is expected to be in attendance at the event, set to take place April 14-15.
For more about the efforts of AYUDA and to donate, visit www.smilesforall.net/ayuda/about.html .
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] .