Dentistry Students Bring Health and Hope to the Dominican Republic
The cheer “O-H I-O!” has been shouted out in countries all over the world by OSU alumni, faculty and students who serve as volunteers and ambassadors for hope, health and change.
Recently, a group of Ohio State’s College of Dentistry students brought this great OSU cheer, a helping hand, and new hope to the Dominican Republic, as they joined with practicing dentists and professional hygienists from the U.S. and Ecuador to provide dental health care for those in need in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and the surrounding cities of La Romana and Las Americas.
The College of Dentistry’s students spent December 12th through the 21st (2008) in Santo Domingo and the surrounding region, where they were paired with local mentors who introduced them to the Dominican culture, while also preparing them for their stint as international health care volunteers. Providing free dental treatment to members of the local community, the students performed dental restorations, removed decayed teeth, and provided cleaning and preventive dental care.
With the help of the Charity Anywhere Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving dental and medical service to “anyone, anywhere,” the trip was designed to give the dental student volunteers an opportunity to use their skills, to build relationships, and to provide a service to a nation that needed their help and the hope that comes along with genuine caring. And although none of the students knew what to expect while serving dental patients in a foreign country, their time spent in hands-on practice at OSU’s dental labs served them well.
“When it came time to do a prep on my first patient, surprisingly, I wasn't nervous at all,” said Josh Muir, one of the OSU student volunteers and the president of the dentistry class of 2011. “In fact, because of all the work we’d done in the labs at the College, I felt well prepared and the motions were natural.”
With an improvised clinic set up in a local church, the working facilities included four portable dental operatories and a separate area with five dental hygiene stations. Each morning when the students arrived at the church, they had long lines of people waiting their turn to receive free dental care. While many patients needed advanced treatments and multiple fillings, the student focused on providing as many essential treatments as possible, serving a total of 429 patients and performing 662 dental procedures throughout the ten-day trip.
“Our group chose working longer hours over being tourists, and we were all exhausted every day, but we met our goals,” Muir said. “I felt proud and impressed.”
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit by the students to a local orphanage where they were greeted by smiling children who wanted to play, talk, and just be held. Many of the children from the orphanage were also brought to the students’ free clinic where they received dental care and preventive treatment.
All children and adults who visited the clinic received dental kits that included a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, and floss, as well as information on good oral hygiene habits. For many of the patients, this visit to the volunteer clinic was their first ever experience of receiving professional dental care and treatment.
OSU dental student Will Leffler worked closely with the Charity Anywhere Foundation to help raise funds for this trip to the Dominican Republic, where the need for essential dental health care is so great. “It’s really unfortunate that so many of these people don’t have access to basic oral hygiene care,” Will said, “but we know our help has given them a start on the path toward good, at-home oral preventive care.”
The Ohio State student group included nine second-year dental students, all of whom will graduate in 2011. Josh Muir, Jonathan Draney, Chase Davis, Will Leffler, Greg Snevel, Loc Dang, Brooke Fender, Alex Schipkova and Megan Miller made the trip to Santo Domingo and the surrounding region, including the city’s most poverty-stricken section called Sabana Perdida, where the average individual’s income is less than 60 U.S. dollars per month.
“Experiences like this one change lives,” Josh Muir said. “It was a chance to step back and look at ourselves, and to make some decisions about the kind of dentists we want to be.”
Muir and the other members of the OSU student
dentistry team are planning another humanitarian trip to Ecuador
this year, and although the setting will be different, the goal will
be same: to provide the needy with free dental care and caring, and
to restore oral health while they help to restore hope.