Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Volunteer Project
In order to facilitate peoples’ decision to join me on my mission clinic in Cabo San Lucas, I have prepared the following information in hopes it will answer questions that most interested people have asked. Of course I am available to answer anything that is not sufficiently covered here.
General comments about the project
Schedule. The project typically runs for one week. The ideal schedule is to arrive on a Wednesday, work Thursday and Friday, have the weekend off, work Monday and Tuesday and return that evening or the following day. The schedule depends more on availability of volunteers than anything else, so it flexes depending on that.
Safety. Safety in Mexico is an issue that always comes up. If there were ever a time that I, personally, felt that it could be unsafe to travel to Cabo I would cancel the trip. I have been to Mexico more than 70 times in many locations and have never felt threatened. Needless to say, this is a personal choice by anyone choosing to support the project, but I would like to suggest that safety NOT be a major factor in the decision.
Housing. The Cabo project entails no hardships in terms of housing. While many dental volunteer projects have been described as treks into jungles or up mountainous paths, I often jokingly refer to mine as “Club Med volunteerism.” In this case, we stay in a nice facility that is entirely clean, modern and equipped with nice rooms, pools and amenities that make the stay very comfortable and, during our non-work hours, rather vacation-like. For the Cabo project, housing is provided by the non-profit (Amigos de los Niños, or ADLN) and breakfasts are included by the hotel they book for us. For more details, see the Housing options link.
Expenses. As mentioned above, the hotel (with breakfast) as well as lunches on clinic days are provided. The volunteer pays all other expenses. There are no funds available to support volunteers although former volunteers have solicited funds from various sources (friends, service clubs, churches, dental supply companies, etc.). Some teams have approached practices to which they refer patients (orthodontic, oral surgery, etc) and had excellent results getting donations. If you approach them with the fact that you are doing a mission dental project in Mexico, you may find that they might help with finances.
Licensing/malpractice. All dentists must submit a current license from your home state to confirm your credentials. No malpractice is necessary. There are local dentists who sponsor our work and Mexicans are not litigious people, particularly in the population we help.
Supplies. Up until now, I have personally provided all of the expendables, which include local and topical anesthetic, filling materials, sealant materials, etching and bonding supplies, gloves, masks, needles, cotton goods, etc. I would ask that you consider donating some of these goods since the Cabo project is coordinated by a non-profit organization that is constantly counting every peso. Alternatively, you could also make a deductible cash donation to the non-profit. What you need to bring: Loupes, if you normally use them, gloves, if you are "picky," (we have a fairly good supply in S-M-L, mostly in non-latex) and masks, again only if you are picky about them (we have both cup-style, as well as over-the-ear). In other words, you don't really have to bring anything if you are flexible enough to use the gloves and masks we already have.

Spanish. If you know Spanish, it is helpful. If not, either local volunteers or I can help. I have a dental Spanish vocabulary sheet (including vital phrases) so that you can at least have some of the basics before you go. Ability or knowledge with the language should not be a major consideration. However, nearly all volunteers who have gone on the project have said they wished they had learned more Spanish before they went. I have provided a dental Spanish vocabulary sheet which you can access from the Dental Spanish link.
Breadth of care. The project provides comprehensive pediatric dental care for Mexican children who literally have no other hope for care. This is not an extractions-only type of project. While some extractions are necessary, they are not the focus. The current biggest obstacle to providing the same level of care that we can in the U.S. is lack of x-rays. It may eventually be available in Cabo but for now is not within the budget of the non-profit. It is not difficult to find teeth in need of treatment without them. We do prophies, fluoride, sealants, composite restorations, stainless steel crowns and pulpotomoes. We do not provide space maintenance.
History of the Cabo Project
The Cabo project began the year after an initial success with a similar program in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Cabo San Lucas (CSL) has been my family’s primary vacation destination since 1983 (when it was quite different than it is now) because of the predictability of sunshine (360 days per year) and its dry climate, which for those of us from the Pacific Northwest is a big deal!
I got in touch with the executive director of the Amigos de los Niños, (ADLN) a non-profit group in CSL. It is a medical organization that coordinates with American physicians to care for the eyes, ears and hearts of the local children and also gives support to families that have children with cancer. When I approached the group about my idea, they expressed great skepticism about whether or not it would even be possible—American dentists treating Mexican children who had neither seen a dentist nor an American! After our first effort in 2007 we demonstrated that it was not only no problem, but a huge success. Since then we have worked out of a private school located far out of town in a typical Mexican barrio—dirt streets and dogs running around. The school, which was built with private donations, is for children of single parents and includes children between the ages of 2-8. When built, a modest medical office and a one-chair dental office were included. We have worked out of that dental office from 2007-2015. We have also seen special needs children and were told that no other dentist in the CSL area (or the Baja Peninsula) would see them.
The Teams that went usually had three members. Since there was a single chair, there was never a need to take another dentist, although I have done that. It has been a mix of assistants, hygienists or any other combination imaginable and each person understands that we are interchangeable, which is to say, I have occasionally been the dental assistant!
In 2014 during the project, Gay Thatcher-Herrera, the executive director of ADLN, informed me that the organization had received two large donations in the amounts of $50,000 and $70,000 and that the Board of Directors had voted to use the funds to remove the roof of existing administrative building and construct a brand-new second floor. On that floor would be spaces for the ENT’s, the eye docs and a large space for a new dental clinic. I worked with them to design and equip the facility and it was launched in May of 2016. There are three pediatric dental chairs, all equipped with A-Dec control units and American standard hand pieces. We will have 12 tray set-ups and a brand-new autoclave so that we should be able to keep 2-3 dentists busy without delays for clean instruments, which has always been a problem before. It is almost unbelievable that the “little project” that started in 2007 has turned into something that can definitely make an impact on the local population. Because of its remote location (and the difficulty for the ADLN to get its personnel out to it) the original facility could only function once per year. Now that the new clinic is located at the administrative building, we have been holding 4 clinics per year with the possibility of expanding to 6-8 times per year. I am now looking for volunteers to staff the larger facility for multiple sessions each year. The crucial aspects of the Cabo project are:
·      Three dental chairs available
·      No assistants to sterilize or help in any way
·      Typically no Mexican dentists are in any way involved
·      Housing is provided by the non-profit at the Hotel Medano
·      Car rentals are essential and the cost may shared among participants or paid for by participating dentists
·      There is some travel time because the clinic is not near the housing
Luis Herrera, the husband of Gay, owns a restaurant and will sometimes provide a discounted meal for the volunteers, but beyond that, the exposure to the local population is mostly limited to the children and their parents. Also, it is possible that the ADLN Board of Directors might be in contact, either at a dinner or by visiting the clinic while it is functioning.
There is more commuting involved with this project. There tends to be lots of camaraderie among the volunteers because we often do things as a group. You may view this a good thing or a not-so-good thing. Also because the housing is provided, family members are not allowed since the ADLN isn't willing to support family vacations. If family members are actual dental personnel, then it could work, but otherwise, it isn't allowed. You may bring family members, but then you must pay for your own housing. No exceptions!
I strongly suggest that you consider bringing some of your own Team. This could be a fantastic “perk” and from a practical standpoint, would enhance your ability to provide care in a fashion you are accustomed. The facility cannot handle a Team of 12-15, but if you have a Team of 6-8, it could be perfect.
Your total cost will depend on the airfare to Cabo. It is an easy destination because of its popularity with Americans. From Seattle the fare is usually $450-500/person. The car rental can be expensive because of the mandatory insurance rules in Mexico. Normally two  smaller car are sufficient. On average, the cost for the car rental for a week is about $175 plus cost of gas. I have a contact at Thrifty Car Rentals and we can work this out together. Remember that all the housing and several meals are provided for free.
Scheduling for the future
 I am in charge of scheduling teams and I always give priority to pediatric dentists who can bring some of their Team members. I have decided to limit the participants to pediatric specialists, as it is already a bit of a challenge to provide care for children who have never seen a dentist so that having the skills for pediatric procedures seems like a definite advantage. I am working with groups about 2-4 times per year and once groups have been down and know how to set up the clinic, take inventory for materials, etc, how to keep statistics and records and how to take the clinic back down at the end, they qualify to go without me. My main emphasis at this point is to establish as many independent groups as possible.
What to do right now
If, having read all the above, you have definite interest in joining me, please write to me at: Scheduled dates for 2020 and beyond are now available and once you have communicated your commitment plus the number of Team members you can bring, I will finalize plans to have you join me.
Last of all, my not-so-hidden agenda for the Cabo project is to find some key people who would be willing to take on part of the administration of the project. For 9 years, I was happy to be the leader of the once-per-year project, but with the possibility of 6-8 events each year it will not be possible for me to continue to run the entire program. As a a result, I would like to know if you have an interest beyond a single trip down. If so, I would definitely be there for your first time to introduce you to all the people and get you as fully informed as possible, so that you might take on that role for future projects.
I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your interest.

Go back to Cabo Project Page