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Queens Chronicle

Dentists back from mission of mercy

Howard Beach tooth fairies bring partials and fillings to Dominicans

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019 10:30 am

Dr. Lary Verasco, who has been looking after people’s teeth in Howard Beach for 36 years, had watched his dental partner, Dr. Hannette Gomez, go off to the Dominican Republic each year to donate a week of her time and skills to helping people who can’t pay.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Verasco. “But I told her, this year, I want to go.”

Gomez and Verasco have been partners for 15 years in their sunny office on 156th Avenue, just down from the Stop and Shop supermarket.

Gomez, a native of the Dominican Republic, has been making the trip back to the island nation for five years now — each year to a different town.

The Dominican Medical Dental Society, a 42-year-old group of doctors and dentists based in Washington Heights, organizes what it calls “The Mission” each year. This year, it picked Cotui, about an hour and half outside the capital, Santo Domingo.

“We took over the hospital there,” said Verasco.

“More than 100 people,” added Gomez. “Twenty dentists, ophthalmologists, general surgeons.”

Trucks with loudspeakers spread the word to the surrounding towns that the doctors were coming.

“We don’t start seeing people until 9 but they start showing up outside the hospital at 5 and 6 a.m.,” said Gomez. “They come from far away, from parts of the country that don’t have doctors and dentists.

“They want to make sure that they will be seen.”

The dentists worked nine-hour days on rented chairs and without the rinse-and-spit sink Americans are used to seeing.

“These people are just so happy to be helped,” said Verasco. “They don’t complain.

“When you finish at night, you walk out the front door of the hospital and the crowd parts. You can hear them say, ‘Here come the doctors.’

“It’s a different mentality than what we’re used to. You’re just so happy to help them,” he said.

The work never stopped during the five days in early March they were in Cotui, they said.

Verasco was part of a team that made acrylic dentures for people with missing teeth.

“We did hundreds,” he said. “I was working so fast I didn’t have time to count.”

What will he take away from the work?

“I’ll remember the expression on people’s faces when they get their teeth,” Verasco said.

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