She fixes the teeth of the police

Photo by Joseph B. TreasterDr. Alexandra Regato, a dentist on San Cristobal Island

Works 14 hours days
with Sundays off

Dr. Alexandra Regato works in a small office just off the waterfront on the Galapagos island of San Cristobal. She is one of five dentists on the island, the second most populous island in the Galapagos with 6,000 people.

The dentists were all trained on the mainland of Ecuador, 600 miles across the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos Archipelago. The islands are a part of Ecuador and the dentists are licensed by the government.

Dr. Regato, who graduated from the University of Guayaquil School of Dentistry on the mainland, said the dental care in the islands is good, but that the dentists lack some specialized equipment.

Patients with serious problems need to fly to the mainland.  Several patients on San Cristobal and on nearby Santa Cruz Island said they have gotten good dental care in the Galapagos.

It was not always so.

“Dentistry has greatly improved in the islands,” said Dr Regato. Regulations covering dental offices in the Galapagos were introduced 18 years ago, she said, a year after she opened her practice on San Cristobal. Now dental offices are inspected every six months, she said.

Dr. Regato has two practices. She is the dentist for the police on San Cristobal and their families. And she sees patients in her private office downtown. She works 14 hour days with only Sunday off. Most days she treats 15 to 16 people at police headquarters and five to six in her downtown private office.

“I love my job,” she said,   “It’s a passion. I have wanted to be a dentist since I was a little girl, and the long work days actually calm me.”

Dr. Regato was born in Guayaquil, the largest city of Ecuador with about two million people. She practiced dentistry there for five years after graduating from medical school in 1989. Then her husband, a medical malpractice lawyer, got a job in San Cristobal and she moved with him.

Her office is a small white ice-cube-shaped building on the corner of Avenida Jose de Villamil, named for the general who was the first governor of the Galapagos, and Avenida Ignacio Hernandez, named for the colonel who, in 1832, established the first settlement in the islands. The dental office has a treatment room, a reception room with two straight back chair stand an administrative office all tucked in to 100 square feet.

She fills cavities, fits braces, makes prosthetic teeth, and cleans teeth. She charges $30 for a cavity, $500 for a prosthetic tooth and $25 for a cleaning. She installs braces for $300 and applies an additional charge for monthly check ups on the braces.

One afternoon, Dr. Regato, in her white lab coat, showed me around her office. The single dental chair and all her equipment were up to date and clean. “I have a nephew back in Guayaquil who buys my medical equipment every two years,” she said. She said he sends her medical supplies every three months.

Jesus Gonzalez, 28th, wearing a gray Quicksilver brand tank top, his brown dreads touching his shoulders, said he regularly goes to a dentist in the one hospital on San Cristobal, the Oskar Jandl Regional Hospital.  He is a coordinator at Projects Abroad, a company that brings young people from around the world to the islands to do volunteer work. He has health insurance through his job that covers dentistry.

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Christopher Privette, far right

The per capita income on the island is $8,800. Some people never see a dentist. Many cannot afford to pay the several hundred dollars for a flight to the mainland for treatment. Victor Reisoa is the manager of a company on the island of Santa Cruz that sells tickets on sightseeing boats. He has the money to go to the mainland for dental care. He says he goes to the mainland because there are more specialists there.

Dr. Regato is a general orthodontist. She acknowledged that the Galapagos lacks the specialists of the mainland and she said that the dentists there have a wider range of equipment. She said that when someone comes to her for treatment, she can quickly determine the cause and come up with a solution. But she said that in some cases she has to send to Guayaquil, on the mainland, for special equipment.

Jonathan Guiller, 23, is a dive and surf instructor in San Cristobal and one of Dr. Regato’s patients. A few years ago, he said, he had a gap between his two front teeth and went to see Dr. Regato. She closed the gap with braces and he was pleased with the results, he said. At one point, he said, he had a chipped tooth repaired on the mainland of Ecuador and, another time, he visited a dentist on the island of Santa Cruz. “There isn’t much difference between the quality of care here in the Galapagos and on the mainland,” he said.

Dr. Regato said that dental care in the Galapagos is not as good as in much of the United States. But she said the future looks good. “Many of the teenagers on the island are studying to go into the medical field and become specialists,” she said. “ Many of them will come back to the islands to work and continuously improve the quality of care.” #

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