Reason to Smile

Reason to Smile

Chicago-area dentist travels to rural Mexico to care for patients

At a make-shift dental clinic in Mexico’s Southern Sierra Madre Mountains, adults and children sat in portable wooden and plastic chairs, their heads tilted back and mouths open wide. While an assistant shined a flashlight into patients’ mouths, James Orbon, DDS, worked primarily on extractions.

That was 2001, when Orbon, a pediatric dentist in Gurnee and Vernon Hills, made his first volunteer trip to Mexico with a small group of other dentists and dental hygienists. The group now goes yearly to the town of Quechultenango in the southern state of Guerrero to provide free services to children and adults. 

“Oral hygiene is very important because the mouth is the gateway to the body, and a clean mouth prevents bacteria from entering the body,” Orbon says.

He recalls one man he treated for a very serious dental infection that could have spread to the man’s heart and brain. Several years later, the man returned to the clinic to thank Orbon for curing him.

This is no resort vacation. The team of 14 flies into Acapulco and then travels four hours inland, “standing in the back of the truck the way the locals do along narrow, dusty, mountainous roads,” Orbon says. The volunteers make the trek in winter, when weather is typically dry. Still, Orbon remembers one year when heavy rainfall chased them out early. “The river was rising, so we had to hurry to leave before the road got washed out.” 

The trips expand an ongoing mission called El Niño Rey, which priest Matthew Foley of the Archdiocese of Chicago created in Quechultenango in 1995, providing financial aid to help children stay in school. Orbon met Foley at a church in Northbrook, where Orbon resides. 

Thanks to donated professional equipment, including generators and dental chairs, the volunteers have improved the clinic over the years. During each four-day clinic, working in 80-degree weather, treats as many as 800 patients from Quechultenango and surrounding communities. Treatment has expanded beyond extractions. Orbon and his team now offer preventative care and treat a full array of dental issues.

“This work is wonderful and changed my life in a positive way. It is truly a gift to use my skills to help these beautiful people,” Orbon says, adding, “People with a good smile are happier.”

For further information, contact: El Niño Rey,; (847) 272-7090.