Floating Dentists in Bocas del Toro

The dentist couple Marc and Angie joined the Floating Doctors organization, to serve the Ngabe-Bugle indigenous community with dental care.

Angie with a little patient. You can see on her teeth that the Ngabe-Bugle stepped into the industrial society without the proper information about sugar. Lots of work to do!

In the past few months, they have treated patients in the most remote areas of the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

There are no roads between the islands, so all the settlements have to be visited by boat.

Marc and Angie’s motivation is to help the community lead a healthier life. Healthy teeth are essential for that. According to Marc, the teeth of the Ngabe-Bugle are the most beautiful on earth. Strong and straight, and all teeth regular, well rooted, and beautifully placed.

We already noticed the beautiful smile of the Ngabe during our visit to the San Cristobal island.

But now, he often has to pull the teeth that could have been so perfect. Some of their patients are as young as 12 and Marc has to pull 6 teeth because they are rotted to the bone. So sad!

Angie: “Since the diet of the indigenous changed from natural to industrial, things went wrong. Sodas, sweets and chips came in, but not the toothbrush and dental care that have to come with them.“

In the local shops, sodas, sweets and chips seem to belong to the essentials along with rice, beans, toilet paper, cooking oil and bleach. But not toothpaste or toothbrushes.
The baby-teeth of this 7 years old child, cannot be saved. And if his habits do not change, this boy will also lose his adult teeth to sugar.

Marc says: “they simply don’t know that Cola is bad, that sugar is bad. Some mothers even think that Coke is good, and you see even babies drinking that stuff. At fifteen, they have a sugar addiction, and… no tooth left.”

Preventive care

Everything starts with good information. And there is a lot to win, because there is a lot of teeth to save.


Marc suggested to label the Cola and soda tins as the Netherlands label their cigarette packs with warnings like: ’smoking gives lung cancer’. So, every tin of Cola or soda should be labeled with: THIS DRINK MAKES YOUR TEETH ROT.”
The dental team explains the devastating effect that sugar has on teeth…
…and also, they teach the kids how to brush their teeth. Marc: “the best way is to show it by doing it in their own mouth. That they feel themselves how it should be done.”
Because the condition of the gums is often really bad, brushing may hurt a little and often bleeds. This will get better after a few days, as the dentists show.

Angie and Marc are floating doctors now for 4 months.  The complete organization runs on volunteers. And it is amazing what they do.

Angie: “The work is so rewarding. You can make so much a difference, for mothers, for the children.” But it is not easy.

There is a base camp, but there are no roads here. Sometimes they sail with their boat to the villages and go on anchor there. The rest of the way they do by motorboat and they walk to the village with their equipment.

Basic dentist portable equipment, just before the patients start coming in.

“The tools are limited. There is no suction. We work with “mineworker-lamps” on our heads. You do your utmost on hygiene, but an indigenous hut remains an indigenous hut. And, you have a big number of patients to treat.” It requires every bit of creativity.

Marc: Sometimes the chickens run around your legs while you are working on a tooth.”

They discovered a fluid that kills the bacteria’s in little holes and forms a strong, protective layer. It was successful a century ago in dental care, but now it is a forgotten product.

“It costs next to nothing, and it is a great alternative for a filling for these young kids teeth.”

Pulling a tooth that is rotten to the bone, requires special tools a modern Western dentist practice has, but Marc has not. “A colleague discovered a surgery tool for fixing and opening sinuses. You can beautifully go along the root with it, without any violence, and then simply lift the remaining piece of the tooth with root and all. It is not in the dentists’ handbook, but it is simple, it works subtle, and I love that.”

Marc: “You can beautifully go along the root with this instrument, without any violence, and then simply lift the remaining piece of the tooth with root and all.”

And there are stories of hope. A young indigenous lady who escorted her brother to the dentist, assisted Marc because they were short of staff that day. She proved to be a natural talent, so Marc encouraged her to become a dental worker herself. That’s empowerment.

Opportunities, for you?

Now here’s today’s key question: do you know a capable dentist who can take over Marc and Angie’s place from October? Or would you know of any daring ‘dental’ volunteers who are willing to dedicate their holidays or study time to this great community?

The present team of Floating Dentists at Bocas del Toro

It is super rewarding work for an amazing indigenous community in a paradise-like setting. You think we are exaggerating? Nope. We’ve been there.

Interested?  Please contact Floating dentists on info@FloatingDoctors.com or visit their site.

Like to sail with us? please contact info@fossilfreearoundtheworld.org