While growing up in Peru, Jamie Meza knew he wanted to become a doctor, and by secondary school even knew what kind of doctor he wanted to be – a dentist. When he was accepted into dental school, it was like a dream come true.
It was there that he first encountered patients born with clefts. In case after case, he saw that, without early intervention, children born with clefts were especially susceptible to cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, dangerous infections, and irregular facial growth as teenagers. He was heartbroken to see poor dental health undo many of the gains patients made after their cleft surgeries – their eating, speaking, sleeping, and self-esteem could all suffer.
Dr Meza graduated and signed on to work at Smile Train partner Hospital Nacional Docente Madre Nino San Bartolome, a public hospital serving the most at-risk people in Lima and those who cannot afford medical care. As a trusted Smile Train partner in a major metro area, he treated many children born with clefts.
Dr. Meza became more adept at providing dental care for cleft patients, but was unable to meet the high demand for his services. So, in keeping with Smile Train’s “teach a man to fish” model, he reached out to other dentists to educate them on cleft care. He said, “Many of my colleagues were skeptical at first, but that all went away once they saw the mothers’ joy at their children’s improvements.
“I want to help children with clefts specifically because they’re often neglected and need special types of care,” he added. “The challenges of this complex treatment motivate me and I always want to learn more from other specialists and those in my field.”
With Smile Train’s support, Dr Meza can provide timely comprehensive care to these children in different stages of treatment. “Dental care is fundamental at every stage of a child’s development and growth,” he explained. “Older patients who had poor dental care or who skipped part of their treatment program have had to undergo further surgery, which is distressing to them and has a greater risk of leaving scars and disrupting their social lives.”
No matter the patient’s age, Dr Meza believes treatment should always start with pre-cleft surgery orthopaedic care. “These devices reduce the need for further surgery, help the child receive adequate nourishment, and allow the surgeon to recreate facial features. They also support the development of the jawbone, because when bone growth is stimulated, the results of comprehensive treatment are much better and require fewer invasive surgeries later on.”
After surgery, Dr Meza provides regular cleanings and checkups to prevent tooth loss and gum disease. Then we check to see if bone graft surgery is needed for child's jaw development.
At this point, older patients will receive orthodontics to straighten their teeth and finish the gum and jaw alignment process. For Dr. Meza, the end result is magical. “The satisfaction of seeing the patients’ smiles is immense,” he says.
Dr Meza shared his thanks with Smile Train donors, “I have no words to describe how important the support of Smile Train is. Without your donations, children with clefts wouldn’t even be able to speak and have a healthy smile.”
The feeling of gratitude is mutual. Thank you, Dr Meza, for all you do to help children smile.
Help Dr Meza and our dental partners around the world to provide needed dental care to children with clefts with a donation today.