Madison dentist travels to poverty-stricken Guatemala to give children free smiles

By SALLY CAPONE, Staff Writer in the Madison Eagle

Madison dentist Dr. Sam Romano spent the last week in January providing free dental care to the poor in Guatemala

Madison dentist Dr. Sam Romano spent the last week in January providing free dental care to the poor in Guatemala, especially children, as a member of a team of dentists and hygienists from across the U.S. and Canada who lugged their own equipment to a daily clinic. Above: Dr. Wendy Winarick, left, of Waco, Texas, and Dr. Romano, third from left, reassure a brother and sister after treating their dental problems, often requiring extractions.

MADISON – It has been four years since Madison dentist Dr. Sam Romano made his first trip to offer free dental care to the people of Guatemala, and the need is as great as ever.

Romano spent the last week in January in the Central American country, one of the poorest in Latin America, where more than half the population lives in poverty.

“The key is that you can’t appreciate what you have until you see people who have very little,” Romano said at his Park Avenue office after his return.

“But the kids are happy – it doesn’t take money to be happy,” he said.

Romano traveled with a group of 25, including dentists and dental hygienists from around the United States and Canada.

Poor Lack Water

“It’s more expensive to buy water than it is to buy soda in Guatemala – and if you don’t have water, you don’t brush your teeth,” Romano noted.

The dental group spent its days in a big gym-like area standing on concrete floors under metal roofs in 95-degree heat with 70 percent humidity, he said.

Each day began at 9 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., and in the first day, the dental group saw 200 people, mostly children, Romano recalled.

Even though Romano doesn’t speak Spanish, it wasn’t a problem.

“You can communicate with very few words; between a look and the tone of your voice you can convey to people that they are safe,” he said.

Since the dental group brought all of its own equipment, most of the work was limited to extractions, Romano said.

They were needed, as a poor diet, lack of dental care and too much “junk candy” had combined to inflict children with the pain of rotted teeth.

Many also received toothbrushes, the first they’d ever owned.

“There were volunteers from the town to help us and the mayor blessed us – they are trying to help the people,” he said.

A young patient returns to the clinic the day after Dr. Romano removed an abscessed tooth to give the dentist a “knuckle shot” of thanks.
Hug From Little Boy

Romano said he wouldn’t hesitate to volunteer again, especially since the country is only five hours away.

Despite the noise and crush of people, Romano knew that the dental work the group performed was appreciated – especially when he was hugged by a little boy.

“Everybody is under so much pressure today and stressed,” he observed of life back home in the States.

“It’s easy to forget about who really needs help.

“You’ll never feel as good as when you do something for somebody else.

“The greatest gift is when you have what somebody else needs, and you can give it to them,” Romano said.