Veteran of charity trips shares tips on getting involved
BY DOROTHY S. FERREIRA, RDH, BSDH
How many of you remember the ad tagline,
“Join the ADHA. See the world”? Oh wait,
that was for the Army, not dental hygiene.
But there is a league of dental hygienists
who have taken this slogan to heart. They
head out for a week or more each year to
use their skills and help underserved populations the world over. Would you like to
I FELL INTO DOING...
...dental hygiene on mission trips by chance.
One of my patients mentioned that an organization her Rotary Club supported was
looking for volunteer dental hygienists. The
group is Alliance for Smiles, and they perform cleft lip and palate reparative surgeries
on children in developing areas of the
world. Six months after I spoke with her, I
was on my way to Bangladesh. That was
eight years ago, and so far, I’ve worked with
teams on 15 missions and I’m preparing
for my 16th as I write this.
I knew nothing about medical missions
and what it would be like to practice dental
hygiene in an unfamiliar environment, but
I’ve always been a jump-in-head-first-and-think-about-the-consequences-later kind
of person. So I headed off to Dhaka, ready
to take on the world. When we arrived at
the hospital, we found the dental equipment did not work and our patients could
not speak English. My education in adapting began. Even my porte polisher from my
ancient dental hygiene kit would have been
helpful in dealing with the betel nut stains.
No matter what I thought I knew beforehand, nothing could have prepared me for
the overwhelming emotion that came over
me each time I worked with a person who
thanked me for the care I provided them.
How exciting it was to see the children
practicing their new brushing technique
that I taught them through charades.
There are things I wish I had known
before going on my first mission. I spoke
with a few other hygienists who have served
on mission teams to get their ideas too. I
hope that reading about our experiences
will inspire you to volunteer with an orga-
nization and change lives, not the least of
which will be your own.
The first thing you’ll need to do is find
an organization with which to volunteer.
While all of the hygienists I spoke with
found out about a group the same way I
did—through someone they knew—you
can find organizations on your own. The
ADA Foundation website (
http://interna-tionalvolunteer.ada.org/volunteer-connec-tion/) provides a long list of organizations
and missions that are looking for dental
volunteers. Another company, Volunteer
com/article_post/dental-volun-teer-abroad-medical-mission-trips-den-tists-students), is a for-profit company that
helps people find volunteer opportunities
all over the world.
Research the organization you’re thinking of signing with and contact them for
details. Things you will want to ask about
are: What is their history and mission
statement? What documents will you
need to submit with your application?
What kind of work will the team be doing?
How will they use your skills as a dental