Toothbrushes in Costa Rica

February 3, 2017

Many of you know of our families passion for southern Costa Rica, it’s not just because I am a goofy foot and the area we visit has one of the best left hand wave point breaks in the world. We fell in love the Costa Rican people, their happy, non confrontational spirit exemplified by their common greeting “Pura Vida”(pure life). The simple lives we encountered when we first traveled there taught us all about how few material possessions you need to be happy. They were always appreciative of even just a tooth brush. We have been visiting the schools for over 22 years now and have distributed over 18000 toothbrushes, most donated by the Butler Sunstar company. A special thanks to Aurora Cote, our Butler rep, David Mclaren, and Kathy Allen, V.P Sales for working hard to provide us with the necessary toothbrushes. So many of the villagers asked if I could help them with their dental needs that my dream was to set up a dental clinic in one of the villages so that I could donate my time. I did carry down equipment so that I could refurbish an abandoned clinic but as with most projects requiring government approval acquiring the permission to donate my work was a cluster of insurmountable hurdles. The clinic does get used by the public service dentists from Costa Rica and occasional foreign dental groups who have government permission.

kidergarden with toothbrushes

In addition we have brought pencils, pens,soccer balls, books, computers, clothes, and fishing equipment. Recently Dr Scott Paul, a great periodontist and avid fisherman donated spools of fishing line and lures. The economy on the village has been struggling because of a significant drought so many of the families have struggled to keep food on the table. Debi and I were on the beach watching as Miguel one of the young men who we gave some of Dr. Paul”s equipment to made his first cast. Within seconds his screams could be heard from a quarter mile away as he hauled in a 15 lb red snapper. He came running up the beach to show us his catch with Dr. Paul’s lure still in its mouth. He showed it off to all his friends, cast out again and promptly caught another smaller snapper. He was ecstatic knowing his family would be eating well. I just wish I had a photo of his smile.

school children waiting for toothbrushes

Usually we go to the schools as Bell Family Dentistry; Brandon, his wife Kristina, my wife Debi and I. Given Kristina’s pregnancy and the Ciska virus threat they stayed home this year. Debi and I went to one of the schools and by coincidence a “health fair” for the elders of the village was taking place next door. Most of these amazing elders are over eighty years old, proud and independent still working and in living in their shacks. One of my favorites was there; Sebastian, an 86 year old who I see almost every day on my way to surf. I give him t shirts but he is too proud to accept charity so he insists that he give me something in trade, usually bags of limes. How he is able to pick/collect so many limes is a mystery to me. He has a few teeth and his upper denture falls out whenever he smiles and he is always smiling. He is always thankful for a toothbrush. When he saw me he ran up to me and pumped my hand and introduced me like we were best friends. I made sure all the elders got toothbrushes too.

seniors getting toothbrushes

In this remote and some would say primitive area the older people have a civility and politeness you don’t see in our rushed society. They treat each other with respect. You acknowledge everyone you pass whether you know them of not if, whether you are in your car on horseback or just walking. If you know them you stop, shake hands with the men, kiss the women on the cheek and exchange pleasantries. One of the benefits of taking our children to Costa Rica was that they returned from this “ poor backward” community with better manners. I know I may seem old fashioned but manners matter to me. When you are introduced to someone you shouldn’t just sit on your couch, with your hat on backwards and grunt “hey dude” not even looking up while playing on your cell phone. Someday I will write about the effect technology has had on the Costa Rican people but for now rest assured the modern transition to impolite indifference is not an American anomaly as the electronic devices takeover communication.

These white faced monkeys were not polite and looking for a banana handout, not a toothbrush.

monkeys looking for a toothbrush