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Project 32: Providing Dental Care for Latin Americans in Need

By Rae Burach

Board a plane in São Paulo, Brazil and fly to Cuiaba. Fly from there to Cacoal, take a six-hour bus ride to Porto Rolim, then a one-an­d-a-half-hour boat ride to the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. This is the journey that Project 32’s doctors take to provide dental care to underprivileged populations in rural Brazil, said Dr. Soraya V. Gadelha, an endodontist closely involved with Project 32. Now imagine traveling that same journey with the dental equipment and materials necessary to provide quality care.

Project 32 has been embarking on this journey yearly for the past decade thanks to its visionary, Professor Dr. Manoel Eduardo de Lima Machado. A professor, specialist, speaker, author and doctor of endodontics, Professor Machado created Project 32 after visiting Amazonian communities with his sons to provide root canal treatment. He sought to create a simpler and quicker endodontic treatment protocol as a means of treating more individuals in less time without compromising quality.

“A protocol has been developed and refined to suit the majority of cases,” explained Dr. Gadelha. “When a tooth only requires direct resin restoration, the endodontist performs the restoration. For cases needing indirect restoration, the restorative dentistry team takes care of it.” During the 2023 Amazon trip, there were 105 root canal treatments and 253 dental restorations completed in seven days by 10 volunteers working three chairs. The team consists mostly of professors and post-graduate students of endodontics and restorative dentistry.

Wanting to provide even more widespread treatment without the added logistics of traveling into Amazonia with dental equipment, Project 32 created its second part: “Christmas Without Pain,” a one-day event that began in São Paulo and now takes place every December throughout Latin America. In 2023, “Christmas Without Pain” took place simultaneously in Mexico, Panama, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and Bolivia. The number of participatory countries is intended to grow with each year.

This was the third “Christmas Without Pain” in which Dr. Gadelha has participated. In São Paulo alone, there were 75 root canal treatments and 167 dental restorations completed by 60 volunteers. “The spirit of collaboration and dedication is inspiring, as everyone is working voluntarily and with the same purpose,” said Gadelha. “Typically, the endodontic procedures are completed by late morning, allowing sufficient time to restore all patients by the end of the day. We only leave when the last tooth is finished.”

Dr. Gadelha had known Professor Machado for many years due to his influence in the endodontic field in Brazil, but it wasn’t until 2019 when they began working together as members of the Endodontics Technical Chamber of the Dental Board of the State of São Paulo. In 2020, Gadelha was invited to join Machado’s team as assistant professor of the Endodontics Specialization course at São Paulo Association of Dental Surgeons.

Dr. Gadelha was drawn to Project 32’s mission knowing that the disparity in access to quality dental treatment is stark. “We cannot pretend not to see that many people are on the margins of society…without access to decent health care,” Dr. Gadelha said. “It makes me very happy to know that we have succeeded in positively impacting the lives of at least some individuals, enhancing their well-being by restoring their oral health.”

When she isn’t providing dental care to those in need, Dr. Gadelha is working at her private endodontic practice and as an assistant professor of endodontics. She’s currently pursuing her master’s degree in biomaterials, which she’ll complete in 2025. Dr. Gadelha sits on the AAE’s Connection Committee and enjoys collaborating with colleagues via the association. She lives in São Paulo and plans to partake in the Amazon trip for the first time this year.

Project 32 welcomes practitioners who are interested in participating, both in Brazil and elsewhere by helping to expand to other countries. Reach out to @drasorayagadelha or @professormachado on Instagram to learn how you can get involved.

Rae Burach is the AAE’s integrated communications specialist.