Suruwahás break their isolation to recover their best weapon, teeth

Suruwahás break their isolation to recover their best weapon, teeth

The remote indigenous community of the Suruwahás, in the Brazilian Amazon, agreed to leave for a few days their traditional isolation to receive the best dental prostheses that exist today and thus recover their main working tool, teeth.

The action led some 50 professionals from the NGO "Doutores Sem Fronteiras" and government agencies from Brazil to a remote region in the southern Amazon, where more than eighty suruwahás received prosthetics and endodontics, some of them valued at more than 5,000 dollars .

"Even if I try, I can not explain a ten percent of what I lived there" are the words with which the president of the NGO, Caio Machado, tells Efe his experience.

This community is cataloged "recently contacted" by the National Indian Foundation (Funai), a government body dedicated to protecting the rights of indigenous people in Brazil, because only about forty years ago it had contact with the outside world.

According to Daniel Cangussu, regional coordinator of the Funai, the suruwahás are kept isolated by a question of "historical memory", since they are descendants of people massacred at the end of the 19th century and also for health reasons: "What for us is a simple flu, for them it can be a complication, "says the expert.

The hermetic community of the Suruwahás gained the attention of the country after the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado portrayed his particular customs, such as the consumption of poisonous potions made of timbó, a toxic vegetable that causes death.

Cangussu explains that self-exposure is a fairly widespread practice, not only among the suruwahás, but in other communities of the Arawak family in the Amazon.

Suruwahás are farmers and excellent hunters and males use their front teeth for many of their daily activities, so "their dental treatment is even more important than the doctor," said Caio Machado.

The wear of their dentures had made difficult tasks such as the construction of arrows for hunting or the making of malocas, as they are called the community cabins in which they live, so they had begun to require children as support for these jobs.

The Special Indigenous Sanitary District (DSEI) Médio Rio Purús is the basic care unit that covers the area, which has about 9,000 indigenous people and only six dentists, according to one of them, Efe Health Officer Diego Picanço.

Due to the lack of means, the most common practice is extraction, so there was an urgent demand for prosthetics that last November brought more than 50 people, between "Doutores Sem Fronteiras" and members of the Funai, to the remote location.

During nine days of unprecedented coexistence for 123 suruwahás, 46 prostheses and 34 endodontics were performed, where the hunters, considered the most important, were the priority: "They send because the land is theirs," explains Caio Machado.

The technology used for the prosthesis, "the best that exists", is the Cad-cam, which allows the patient's mouth to be scanned to obtain measurements and a 3D milling machine to carve a ceramic block in a few minutes until it turns into teeth.

Two total prostheses – complete dentures – valued at more than 5,000 dollars each and 44 partial ones, containing one to three pieces and in which each tooth has a value of more than 1,000 dollars were made.

According to Diego Picanço, the suruwahás, who have remained in the camp until mid-December, were "very satisfied": "At first, they had a bit of suspicion with so many people and equipment (…) but when the first one left happy with his prosthesis and he showed it to the rest, everything flowed perfectly, "says the dentist.

Caio Machado also appreciates the action as a success, despite the reserved nature of the suruwahás: "I already warned my colleagues not to expect hugs and great signs of gratitude."

Although the dentist recognizes that actions such as these bring him "inner peace", he considers them "his responsibility" as a health professional.

"Medicine was created hundreds of years ago to save lives and take care of people, not to earn money, although later we distorted it and turned it into a profession, we must not forget what the essence is," Machado concludes.


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