The Dominican Republic
I finally finished my orthodontics residency, and started planning when I could make another trip to somewhere that was in need of some dental service. This trip was going to be different, as my family had grown both in age and number. My oldest son was now 8 years old, and I knew it was time to get him involved. I ended up bringing both of my sons and my wife. We left my two little girls with my mother, and then we all travelled together to the Dominican Republic.
My wife (Rozannah) and the boys (Lorenzo and Solomon) put together a suitcase full of small gifts that they could distribute to the children as they waited in line for dental services. It turned out to be a hit. Both of my sons, but Lorenzo in particular, are the most outgoing people I have ever met. Lorenzo can make friends with a wall in about 10 seconds. With his older brother nearby, Solomon can do so in about 15 seconds. It was no surprise that they were able to make friends with the local kids instantly, despite the language barrier. Seeing the joy in my sons’ eyes as they made friends and were able to help in the clinic was an experience that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Although they weren’t able to do anything technical in the clinic, they were a great help in running supplies and dirty instruments to the sterilization kitchen. They were always exhausted at the end of the day, but they had enough energy to talk all night about their experiences that day. When we left the boys’ biggest question was: “When are we going to be able to go back and help again?”.
With even more experience under my belt since my dental school days, I was bale to see many patients in the Dominican Republic. As a group, we were able to help over 400 people with their dental needs. What an experience!
With every trip I go on, it becomes harder and harder to wait for the next one. There is just so much need out there, I feel like I need to be doing so much more. At True Smile, we hope to get to the point where either my brother, or I can be on a mission several months out of the year.
In 2010, I was unable to return to Tampico, as the trip was cancelled due to civil unrest in the area. Undaunted, I found another opportunity to serve in a rural community in the mountains above Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The people dressed differently and spoke a different native tongue, but their need was just as great, as was their gratitude.
We were able to make a particularly large impact on this trip as we were able to visit a nearby elementary school and teach hundreds of kids how to avoid cavities. We showed them how to brush and floss properly, and we gave them toothbrushes. The children were unbelievably excited to get some attention from foreigners. The school challenged us to a soccer match. I think the kids we were playing couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, but they smoked us. They were pretty proud of themselves.
Over the course of the week, we were able to provide dental procedures for over 400 people that simply had no access to dental care otherwise. It was wonderful to help, but it was tough to close down that last day with so many more needing or help.
Tampico, Mexico was the location of my first dental mission trip in 2008. It was at the end of my first year in dental school. The trip was only for 3rd and 4th year dental students, but I worked hard to be able to be the only 1st year student to go. It was an incredible introduction to dental humanitarian work, which validated the biggest reason I wanted to go to dental school in the first place. I will never forget the faces of the people I was able to help on that trip. The need was overwhelming, and we worked long hours each day, but the gratitude of the people was so palpable that it made the work a joy.
I can’t recall the exact number of people we helped on that trip, but I believe it was somewhere between 400-500. We were able to perform an array of procedures including cleanings, extractions and fillings. Although I felt fulfilled in being able to help as many people as I did that on trip, I also understood that our work was a but a drop in an ocean when considering the never-ending need for this kind of work throughout the world. I left feeling compelled to get back to Tampico as soon as possible.
The opportunity came the following year when I was again allowed to accompany upperclassmen on a return trip to Tampico in March 2009. This time, I was able to help even more people as my dental skills and knowledge had increased substantially. I was able to get to know the people I was helping this trip, as we set up a clinic in the middle of the community we were serving. I had witnessed true poverty many times before, but this time it was different, as I knew I could make a real difference for these people. The people were as thankful as ever. I was struck by how happy and beautiful these people were amid such poverty. There was a light in the children’s eyes, especially. It is the same light that I have seen across the world in the eyes of all children, even in the midst of the most humbling of circumstances. These children and their parents were so very thankful for the little we were able to do for them. For some, we were able to prevent future dental problems through education, prophylaxis, and sealants. For others we were able to end their dental pain and restore function. For others we were only able to end their suffering by taking out the offending tooth. I left Tampico for the second time with an even greater desire to return and help as many as I could.
In 2011, my friends and I organized a trip to Tonga. This trip was an eye opener for me as I was able to take part in the planning process from the beginning. I came to appreciate the amount of effort it takes behind the scenes to organize something like this. Every country is different, and some are easier than others, but I don’t believe this is ever an easy task.
This was a fantastic trip that brought me to one of my favorite regions in the world. The people in the South Pacific are among the nicest and most selfless people I have ever met. The need was similar on this trip, but we did not have quite as many days to spend doing the dental work, as the travel time to and from Tonga was considerably more than for Central America.
We worked fast and were able to help hundreds of people again. We performed cleanings, fillings, root canals and extractions. We also went to local schools again and taught them how to prevent tooth decay and gave them toothbrushes. I wish we had enough time to ensure that they all had protective sealants. We’ll have to save that for the next trip.
This was my last trip for a couple of years as I started a residency for orthodontics the next year. I knew it would be a while before I could get back to serving, and this made leaving Tonga that much harder.