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North Country Dental goes global

Dr. Paul Schoenbeck, right, on board the USNS Comfort, provided dental care and training during his trip to the Dominican Republic. (click for larger version)
July 01, 2009
GORHAM — Some people might think of North Country Dental as their local dental provider, but this past spring one local dentist took his practice on the road.

In April, Dr. Paul Schoenbeck joined the USNS Comfort, an oil tanker converted to a floating hospital, in a trip the Dominican Republic as part of Project Continuing Promise 2009. He spent four days in a field hospital on the island treating patients and four days training U. S. Navy and Dominican dentists in advanced dental practices.

Project Continuing Promise 2009 brings medical and dental care to Caribbean, Central and South American countries. It offers training for U.S. military personnel and partner nation forces while providing services to communities in need.

On the Dominican Republic, Dr. Shoenbeck and two Dominican dentists set up shop in a dilapidated sports complex built for the 2003 Pan-Am games. Thousands lined up for care.

"We couldn't see everyone so they kept coming back," Dr. Schoenbeck said. "Every day the line got longer and longer. There was no running water in the complex, no bathroom facilities. Most of the people I saw had never seen a dentist."

The team of three dentists treated 92 patients one day. The long days were exhausting, Dr. Schoenbeck said.

"To tell you the truth, it's a tough job," he said. "It was a 14 to 18 hour day."

The unit saw 1,917 patients in, including 342 cleanings, 371 fillings, and 466 extractions — almost $325,000 in dental services.

The days Dr. Schoenbeck wasn't on the island he was training other dentists in CEREC technology.

CEREC stands for ceramic reconstruction. It is computer-based dental reconstructive technology that often takes one visit instead of many to repair dental work.

Dr. Schoenbeck said he is one of the two to three percent of the dentists using this technology in the U.S. He has lectured extensively about the technology, and in January the U.S. Navy approached him about joining the crew of the USNS Comfort. They wanted him to train their dentists on the technology.

He also trained Dominican dentists, including the director general of Medicine and Dentistry for the Dominican military and the dean of the Dominican Republic School of Dentistry. The dean, five professors and 13 dental school students attended a two-day educational seminar on the ship as part of the Educational Partnership with the Dominican Republic School of Dentistry.

"It was a big honor for me," Dr. Schoenbeck said. "It was the first time CEREC had been to the Dominican Republic."

His 10-day trip didn't allow for much downtime, he said. He went from setting up his equipment to providing dental care to training dentists on CEREC, all without a break. The days were usually 15 hours long.

But, he said, they were also rewarding.

The Navy asked if he would be willing to go to Nicaragua in October, but Dr. Schoenbeck said he didn't have the vacation time.

He would like to go again, however.

"I know I can't save the world," he said, "but I can try one tooth at a time.

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