"After seeing people's pain, I wanted to have more of an impact."
"Wipe the child's teeth with gauze and peel open a fluoride varnish pack. Stir the fluoride and paint it on all the tooth surfaces. It's a simple as that," says Chris Schnure Dotterer '70, a retired physician who is working to bring better oral health care to children in the Dominican Republic.
Dotterer's interest in community health started after she earned a B.A. in psychology from Bucknell and moved to New York City to work with children in foster care. As a young mother, she attended medical school at Thomas Jefferson University, commuting from Selinsgrove, Pa., to Philadelphia each week. Dotterer spent 27 years running her own rural community practice in Selinsgrove.
Since a friend asked her to join a medical mission to the Dominican Republic in 2000, she has traveled there 15 times. What started as a program run by a Mennonite couple has grown into the nonprofit Solid Rock International. As the organization grew, so did Dotterer's focus.
"After seeing people's pain, I wanted to have more of an impact," she says. Many of the children's teeth were in bad condition, some with upwards of 40 cavities. "Kids with a lot of cavities have a constant low-grade infection, which can cause growth retardation — and kids who go to school with a toothache can't study."
The oral-health director for the Pan-American Health Association recommended fluoride varnish, and Dotterer trained teachers to apply it. She worked with a dentist to start her own clinical trial, enrolled 465 children in the study and visited every six months for twoand- a-half years, bringing 5,000 doses with her.
Meanwhile, global independent health research organization Cochrane released a study that showed young people treated with fluoride varnish experienced on average a 43 percent reduction in tooth decay. That data and her team's success moved Dotterer to find a way to expand the program in rural Dominican Republic. She recently shared the plan with 15 public-school principals, as well as the congresswoman for the district. The principals are excited about the prospect of bringing better oral health care and education to their communities.