Offering Free Dental Care and Medical Outreach in Tijuana, Mexico

National Headquarters  |  December 16, 2022
Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero (left) from Lucero Dental Group provides expensive orthodontic treatments for patients
Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero (left) from Lucero Dental Group provides expensive orthodontic treatments for patients at no charge. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by Chengyuan Yang; Lusha Lee; Mandy Lo; Roger Kao
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

On Saturday, October 8, 2022, Tzu Chi’s Tijuana campus in Mexico was bustling with activity. The free dental clinic Tzu Chi offered that day started immediately after a strong team arrived. The event supported patients who came after hearing about it by word-of-mouth and fortified the Tzu Chi medical team. Motivated by altruism, Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero, from the Lucero Dental Group, offered her services during the free clinic to help those in need relieve their dental problems. She also brought two other doctors and eight assistants as part of her team.

A Dedicated Team

Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero’s private practice through the Lucero Dental Group has served the Tijuana, Mexico, community for 12 years and has been active in California for 35 years. For the past three years, Dr. Lucero and her colleague Dr. Rosalio Treveno have participated in Tzu Chi’s free dental clinics in Tijuana, usually serving 30 to 40 patients.

Dentist Dr. Lucero's hardworking team
Dr. Lucero's hardworking team attends to patients during the entire day of the free clinic, not even breaking for lunch. Photo/Shuli Lo

Dr. Lucero’s group includes nurses and technicians. For the October 8 clinic, the team arrived on site at 10:30 AM and worked until around 4:30 to 5:00 PM without pause. This hard-working team provided patients with orthodontic services, including braces, bridges, complete dentures, and partial dentures.

Patients wait for a consultation and dental treatment at the free clinic.
Patients wait for a consultation and dental treatment at the free clinic. Photo/Shuli Lo
patients undergo blood pressure and other basic checks
Before seeing a dentist for treatment, patients undergo blood pressure and other basic checks. Photo/Shuli Lo

The beginning of Dr. Lucero’s medical outreach in Mexico traces back to 12 years ago when she and a group of Catholics came here on a charity mission. While they were distributing food, clothing, toys, and blankets, a woman approached the dentist to ask if she could treat her teeth problems. This simple plea led to Dr. Lucero’s journey of offering free dental care to patients in Mexico, her native country.

Feeling Sympathy is Easy – Taking Action Can Be Hard

Dr. Lucero is Mexican, and her heart is in Mexico. However, she discovered that while it’s easy to feel sympathy for her people and their healthcare needs, being able to help them can be hard. Since she insisted on not charging fees for her medical services in Mexico, many dental clinics didn’t want to participate in such an act of kindness. 

Tzu Chi medical volunteer dentist giving dental treatment
Missing teeth are a common problem for patients in the region. Photo/Shuli Lo

And yet, such obstacles to her good intentions eased three years ago after she searched and found Tzu Chi’s Tijuana campus in Mexico, where altruism is the driving force in medical outreach and charity care. The cooperation between the Lucero Dental Group and Tzu Chi has never stopped since then. And within those first three years, Dr. Lucero donated four sets of dental equipment and supplies to the campus.

The Tzu Chi and Lucero Dental Group teams sit down to confer about future services
The Tzu Chi and Lucero Dental Group teams sit down to confer about future services, which they aim to make more in-depth. Photo/Shuli Lo

As part of the Lucero Dental Group team, technologist Mario Gonzalez is responsible for making jaw models, bridges, and more. He comes from a low-income family in Mexico, is Catholic, and his primary interest is helping those in need. “Every time I come here, it reminds me of my childhood because many patients cover their mouths and don’t want people to see their teeth,” he shared, adding, “Some local doctors only do tooth extraction but no dentures. So, the missing teeth make many people feel ashamed.”

Our first patient said she wanted a job but lost all her front teeth and people said she looked like an alcoholic; missing teeth affect a person's chances of getting fair treatment.

Dental technician Mario Gonzalez (second left) works with a physician to adjust a patient's dentures
Dental technician Mario Gonzalez (second left) works with a physician to adjust a patient's dentures. Photo/Shuli Lo

Improved Smiles Boost Self Esteem and Confidence

Jorge G. Lopez, a former patient of Dr. Lucero, is now a volunteer with the Lucero Dental Group. In 2016, when Jorge first met Dr. Lucero, he was bullied by his classmates because of missing and irregular teeth and didn’t want to go to school. The doctor kindly paid for his surgery, gave him confidence, and encouraged him to continue his studies to be better able to help his family. Jorge, who has since graduated from college, is immensely thankful and says, “All I can do is give back and let this love pass on.”

Dr. Lucero (right), and patient Jorge G Lopez
With the help of Dr. Lucero (right), Jorge G Lopez straightened his teeth, graduated from college, and now works as a volunteer. Photo/Shuli Lo

Another patient, Severiana Gutierrez, who has lost many teeth, visits the campus occasionally. She told Tzu Chi volunteers that ever since the dentists started filling her cavities and she finally got dentures, her self-confidence increased significantly, and her life feels full of hope. Severiana even brought her child to the free clinic on October 8 to get braces.

Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero (left) fits patient Severiana Gutierrez with dentures
Dr. Martha Rosa Lucero (left) fits patient Severiana Gutierrez with dentures so she can speak properly again. Photo/Shuli Lo

Alvaro Sapata, who has had braces for three months to treat his dental malocclusion, also came to the free clinic that day. He studies philosophy at the university and drives about an hour and a half from school every month to see Dr. Lucero and help out on the Tzu Chi campus. He shares the hopes and dreams of many Mexicans in the region, explaining that “People living in Tijuana all hope to study and have a better life in the future, but this simple hope can be challenging if the family has no money.” 

Alvaro explained that he was fortunate to be able to study thanks to a Catholic priest’s help. Moreover, he is thankful that his nephew, his sister’s son, attended Tzu Chi Tijuana Primary School since, apart from the quality education, it makes a lasting impression on students’ outlook on life.

Tijuana Tzu Chi Primary School attaches great importance to children’s learning, and Tzu Chi’s great love has profoundly affected every student. Many Tijuana Tzu Chi Primary School graduates are more willing to help others because they have received Tzu Chi’s help and know how to help others.

Caring for a Pastor's Family

The free dental clinic day’s itinerary also included an individual charity case home visit. Volunteer Ah Mui Manguy brought Tzu Chi volunteers from the U.S. to visit Pastor Luis Humberto, who has four adults and five children in his household. Many years ago, the pastor often brought supplies to Tzu Chi Primary School to distribute to the children. That’s how the volunteers got to know him and learned of his needs when in 2021, he developed a gallbladder problem and urgently needed surgery. 

Due to the family’s financial struggles, Pastor Humberto couldn’t afford the surgery cost of 900 USD. Thankfully, Tzu Chi Mexico’s Tijuana service center provided financial assistance to fund the surgery. Before the operation, he had to be on a strict diet and avoid many foods, but now he can eat anything again. Still, volunteer Jingyi Li encouraged him to become vegetarian so that his diet could be lighter and healthier for good.

The Tzu Chi home visit team group shot
The Tzu Chi home visit team heads out to visit Pastor Luis Humberto and his family. Photo/Shuli Lo

​​When the volunteers arrived at Pastor Humberto’s home on October 8, his wife was busy preparing food for a church event, smiling joyfully. Seeing the Tzu Chi team come in, nine-year-old Samuel, one of the couple’s grandsons, immediately approached the volunteers to shake hands and say hello. His polite demeanor revealed the wholesome upbringing he was receiving in this household. 

Samuel, one of the pastor's grandsons and Tzu Chi volunteers
Samuel, one of the pastor's grandsons, is eager to greet Tzu Chi volunteers when they arrive for a home visit. Photo/Shuli Lo

The pastor’s whole family, including grandsons Samuel and eight-year-old Walbel, use the dentistry services provided by the Tzu Chi service center in Tijuana. All of them love to laugh and show everyone their good teeth. Samuel told the volunteers that he likes learning about medicine and reads books on surgery, determined to become a good doctor in the future.

There was another visitor in the house that day, David Vid Tello, whom the pastor’s family cares for, who had come to wait for Tzu Chi volunteers. He has cataracts and can only see straight ahead with a narrow field of vision in one eye, while his sight in the other is getting blurry too. David was an electrician before, but since he had no money to see an ophthalmologist, his vision deteriorated until he could no longer work. The pastor hopes Tzu Chi can help David so he can resume working to support his family.

David describes his vision issues in both eyes to volunteer Ah Mui Pse
David describes his vision issues in both eyes to volunteer Ah Mui Manguy. Photo/Shuli Lo
Volunteer Ah Mui Pse consoles David Vid Tello
Volunteer Ah Mui Manguy consoles David Vid Tello, who suffers from cataracts, and will follow up on his case. Photo/Shuli Lo

David, who is fluent in English, shared that he is a good driver, but his cataracts also prevent him from driving. He had previously taken his wife and children to the United States, but they were deported six years ago for not being legal residents. After the family returned to Mexico, David’s eyesight worsened to the point that he couldn’t work anymore. Consequently, his family now struggles to survive. Volunteer Ah Mui Pse recorded the case and will make follow-up arrangements to assist this family.

Tzu Chi volunteers team group shot
The team finally returns to the campus, where the volunteers can review the activities of their busy service day. Photo/Shuli Lo

Expressing Gratitude to the Lucero Dental Group Volunteers

After the individual charity case home visit, Tzu Chi volunteers rushed back to the campus and started preparing dinner and snacks for the Lucero Dental Group team. This group of kindhearted doctors, nurses, and technicians worked from 10:30 AM until 4:00 PM and would only eat at the end of their volunteer service day. Tzu Chi volunteers lovingly prepared delicious vegetarian dishes for them. They also took the opportunity to encourage vegetarianism, which is beneficial for health and the environment and expresses compassion for all living beings. 

Tzu Chi volunteers cook a vegetarian dinner for the Lucero Dental Group team
Tzu Chi volunteers cook a vegetarian dinner for the Lucero Dental Group team at the end of the free dental clinic day. Photo/Shuli Lo

Before the Lucero Dental Group team left, Tzu Chi volunteers also gave everyone a present. Inside the gift packages, they included Jing Si Aphorisms, an issue of the Tzu Chi USA Journal, and Jing Si food products, which all introduced more about Tzu Chi’s missions and philosophy. The free clinic on October 8 beautifully demonstrated the partnership of organizations and individuals on the road of charity social service, working together to care for impoverished Tijuana residents needing dental care. 

Tzu Chi volunteers prepare and offer gifts for the Lucero Dental Group team who served during the free dental clinic. Photos/Shuli Lo

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