CU Dental Brigades: Bringing smiles to those less fortunate

CU Global Dental Brigades volunteers including students from CU-Boulder

Here in the states, we take healthcare and dental hygiene for granted. However, simple doctor check-ups and routine dental cleanings are not as easy to come by in developing nations.

There are people outside of our wealthy country who would give anything for simple medication, a new toothbrush, or a licensed professional to assess their medical concerns or even pull a mouth full of rotten teeth so they can eat without discomfort. People who live in rural, remote regions of Nicaragua, for example.

Enter Global Brigades, one of the largest student-run non-profit organizations on campuses nationwide. Founded in 2009 this ground-breaking student-led program from universities across the U.S. travels to developing nations, with the goal of establishing sustainability in healthcare, economics, and the environment.

“Global Brigades’ holistic model aims to build moral, educational, and economic infrastructure in under-resourced communities to empower such communities to become self-sustaining,” as described on their website.

Brigades create sustainability by providing a holistic healthcare model that focuses on education to empower locals and community leaders to become stewards of their health, and by working to build sanitation facilities that provide clean water as well as a shower, sink, and toilet so that families may practice good hygiene. The sanitation facilities provide families with their own space to wash clothes, prepare food, and shower, a septic tank and water drawn from a well means the families have a hygienic way to dispose of bodily waste and a source of parasite-free water.

Volunteer students from CU Boulder partner with medical professionals to travel to Nicaragua, bringing around 2,000 packages of soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash along with them. Feminine hygiene products, sunglasses, chapstick, and more are also provided to communities free of charge.

The medical and dental professionals from the United States work alongside Nicaraguan doctors to provide pro bono services and give medications to Nicaraguan patients, while student volunteers assist with data collection, distribution of medications, dental procedures, instrument sterilization, and education. They also work with Nicaraguan community leaders and staff to develop sustainable health systems within each community.

CU Global Brigades does not oversee the training of Nicaraguan healthcare professionals, however, Global Brigades does oversee the education of community leaders who are respected individuals in the community that are able to give health advice to locals and their families. The brigades visit communities every 3-6 months, until they have established a system of health care and have providers for that community. Once a good system has been established the brigades focus on a new community.

“The opportunity to travel and to assist communities in need was what initially drew me to this group,” CU Global Brigades Dental Co-President Kyle Parmley said. “The friendships, experiences, and connections I have made while on the Brigade are what drove me to return as an active member and make this group one of my most valued experiences during my undergraduate studies.”

However, despite the positive experiences of those who have traveled with the Brigade, they are required to pay for the travel expenses and for the community leaders that aid in transportation, housing, and translations. The Brigade fundraises by selling concessions during football and basketball games as well as through restaurant fundraisers.

In addition, while the students hope to have all of the supplies and medications donated from local businesses, if extra is needed, the remainder is paid for by the student volunteers.

They need help! And if you aren’t a licensed professional or a University of Colorado student, don’t worry, you can still offer valuable assistance.

CU Global Brigades are looking for donors to sponsor travel expenses for dental professionals as well as the medications and supplies needed for serving patients. One of the biggest obstacles the brigade faces is securing licensed professionals to give up their time, pay trip costs, and work hard for no pay. Sponsoring trip costs will greatly increase their interest.

Companies and individuals are welcome to support the CU Global Brigades through charitable donations, matching gifts, company fundraising activities, or in-kind donations of supplies. Visit the CU Global Brigades website here to find ways to make a difference.

For a direct response for further questions and inquiries, email the motivated student leaders at CU-Boulder at or

CU Dental Bridgades volunteer Ty Ruckstuhl talking about CU Dental Brigades with Realtors from RE/MAX of Boulder


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