UNCG Students Make a (Teeth) Shining Impact in Guatemala

Posted on February 21, 2024

Group of people in Guatemala

Students who want to pursue a medical specialty, like dentistry, can find opportunities that not only give them real world experience in their chosen field but fill their desire to serve. Over the winter break, members of the UNCG chapter of VAW Global Health Alliance visited Guatemala to work in a dental clinic.

VAW Global Health Alliance is a global health and development organization that works around the world to provide medical, dental, and veterinary treatment.


The students went to San Pedro La Laguna and were able to shadow dentists while they worked on patients in the clinic while also helping with prep stations, taking blood, and measuring blood pressure.

“You could see what the dentist was doing, and they would explain everything to you, which was super helpful,” says Gabriela Cruz, a junior studying biology with minors in chemistry and psychology. “We cycled through five or six stations, so everyone got an equal amount of experience.”

Cruz is interested in going to dental school after graduating. At UNCG, students are able to declare a preprofessional interest track to help form their education around  future goals in fields like medicine, law, dentistry, and engineering.

The option to do a preprofessional interest track is what encouraged fourth-year student Reagan Calhoun to apply to UNCG.

“UNCG was the only school I applied to,” says Calhoun, who went on the trip and is a member of the UNCG Dental Club and the UNCG chapter of VAW Global Health Alliance. “I liked UNCG’s message, and they had a great science department.”


For both Cruz and Calhoun, their interest in dentistry is personal and started at a young age.

“My sister had problems with her teeth growing up, and I think everyone deserves a flattering smile. No one should feel insecure about how they look,” says Cruz, who is also a member of the UNCG women’s golf team. “I always appreciate a smile. It’s the first characteristic you notice about someone.”

Calhoun (left) on the trip in Guatemala.

Cruz says she had a good relationship with her pediatric dentist. Her aunt, who is also a dentist, also served as a role model.

“My aunt and I have similar personalities and its cool to see a woman have such a strong career,” she says.

Like Cruz, Calhoun wants to help others feel more comfortable in the dental chair.

“I was in and out of the dental chair when I was younger, going through surgeries,” says Calhoun, a sociology major with double minors in chemistry and biology. “And while I enjoyed the dentist, my sister did not. So, I want to change the environment and make the dentist office a better experience for people like my sister.”

The students also had the opportunity to make impressions of teeth, a useful skill for entering the field.

“We took our friend’s impressions, and they took ours, so we got to make an actual model of what our teeth look like,” says Cruz.


Calhoun and Cruz say the experience in Guatemala was humbling as they were making an impact in communities that did not have easy access to dentistry work.

“In the United States, we are fortunate for what we have, and the people there were so grateful for us being there,” says Calhoun.

After seeing the condition of some patients in Guatemala, Cruz says she was inspired more than ever to help others. When she becomes a dentist, she hopes to do volunteer work and give back to people who don’t have access to dental care, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We take our dental care for granted a lot,” says Cruz. “I’m not saying dentistry is perfect in the U.S., but I wish there was access for more people. I’m a giver. I always like to help people, and this made me want to help even more.”

Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Gabriela Cruz and Reagan Calhoun
Additional photography courtesy of stock.adobe.com

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