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The Impact of Dental Mission Trips Home and Abroad

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By Emma Guzman, DDS

I have always had a passion for going overseas and providing dental services to those in need. During my undergraduate studies, I went to Mexico on a dental mission and, while in dental school, participated in a mission to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Each experience was very different, but they all were extremely memorable and enriching. I think this passion stems from being a first-generation American and knowing the lack of dental literacy and access to care in other countries.

 

On all three trips, dentists, residents, students, and volunteers provided free dental care. We went to small towns and dental clinics in the local schools. We brought our own equipment and used local supplies provided to us as well. Most of the treatment performed were extractions. Our main goal was to get the patients out of pain and remove diseased teeth from their mouths. We also treated children, performed fillings, and were able to do some esthetic cases. I played a different role on each trip, which gave me different perspectives on mission trips. On the Mexico trip, I supported staff, triaged patients, assisted the providers, sterilized instruments, and translated (since I speak Spanish).

On the trip to the Dominican Republic, I served as a provider. This was only a few months after starting clinical experiences, so I was certainly nervous about providing treatment. When we walked into the clinic at the local elementary school and saw the number of patients waiting to be seen, I understood the impact that being there would make. In Jamaica, I took part in organizing the clinic, choosing supplies, providing education and, of course, treatment. By this trip, I was more confident and efficient and was able to treat more patients.

These experiences were the most memorable aspects of dental school because these patients were truly in need, having no access to dental care. They were very appreciative and it was a blessing to be able to help them. The biggest impact these trips had on me is in how I look at myself as a provider. I believe I came out of every trip better than I was before. I had to think on my feet and work in environments that were not ideal. For example, we had to work in 90-degree rooms with two fans for eight students or working on four-foot chairs when you are almost six feet tall! It takes a toll on your back (not to mention the sweating!) but every moment was worth it.

 

Nothing compares to how you feel after giving relief to someone who has been in pain for months or fixing a chipped tooth that prevented a patient from smiling. I absolutely recommend participating in dental mission trips. Don’t forget, in the United States there are parts of the country that have very little access to dental care and need our services. Do your part!