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.