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Miswak Foundation emphasizes prevention, education

March 17, 2014

Global focus: Miswak Foundation volunteers enjoy a nonclinic day in Jerusalem during a mission trip in December 2012. Pictured are, from left, Dr. Saleha Rahman, Houston, Texas; Dr. Asid Khan, Glasgow, Scotland; the tour guide and his son; Deah Barakat, a dental student at University of North Carolina; Dr. Khurram Shafique, Glasgow, Scotland; Yusuf Bhatti, a dental student at Tufts University; and Dr. Mohsin Ali, general dentist and faculty member at King's College Dental Institute in London.
Springfield, Va.—A dental relief organization has chosen a traditional teeth-cleaning twig as its namesake and the symbol of its mission.

Miswak Foundation promotes dental education, prevention strategies and dental relief missions in underserved areas across the world.

The dental arm of the charitable organization United Muslim Relief, the organization formerly known as Muslims Without Borders Dental Relief changed its name in January. Miswak Foundation was formed in 2011 by a group of American Muslim dentists and dental students to promote the oral health of underserved populations through education, prevention and service.

The miswak itself—a twig from the Salvadora persica tree that is made into a brush—is a common and effective tooth-cleaning tool used among Muslims in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The organization's new identity reflects the symbol that is synonymous with oral health across large parts of the world, said Dr. Kenan Tarabishy, executive director and a founding member of the organization.

The miswak also has special significance for Muslims, both as a tool for good oral health and spirituality.

"We recognized from the outset that we are uniquely situated to access areas where others may face difficulties due to cultural, social or political barriers," Dr. Tarabishy said. "I believe our organization provides an outlet for thousands of dentists across the western world while promoting meaningful oral health practices in underserved communities."

Miswak Foundation has made dental relief trips to Haiti and Sierra Leone. Miswak Foundation recently helped establish dental clinics in Syria, in cooperation with the Syrian American Medical Society. Trips to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey are also in the planning stages.

Dr. Tarabishy: Miswak Foundation is "uniquely situated to access areas where others may face difficulties due to cultural, social or political barriers."
"Miswak Foundation aims to implement prevention strategies that are culturally acceptable to patients and within their socioeconomic means—such as the miswak—as practiced in many African and Asian nations," said Yusuf Bhatti, a senior dental student at Tufts School of Dental Medicine in Boston and Miswak Foundation board director of outreach, recruitment and membership. "This reaffirmed for me the purpose of entering the dental profession in the first place. Miswak Foundation brings human values back into the dental profession by allowing providers to enrich themselves by treating the most vulnerable populations in the world."

Mr. Bhatti was among the volunteers on a mission trip to the West Bank cities of Nablus, Tulkarem and Qalqilya, in December 2012, where the team treated pediatric patients with special needs. Dentists in Nablus and Qalqilya donated the use of their office space for the mission and volunteers saw patients in Tulkarem in a hospital operatory.

"During my first day, I screened more than 50 patients, the majority of whom were deaf orphans," Mr. Bhatti said. "Many of these children became deaf due to untreated respiratory infections that led to hearing complications. I will never forget a 12-year-old boy I treated who had severe burn trauma from head to toe. This boy had never seen a dentist. He was so cooperative, compliant and—the most surprising part—appreciative! After treatment, we gave him some stickers and his face lit up from ear to ear. That moment made me forget every complaint I ever had in dental school, and more importantly gave me great pride to be a provider in the best health care profession in the world, dentistry."

The volunteers and leaders of the organization say that the dedication of Miswak's volunteers and the opportunities it offers dentists to work with volunteers from across the nation make donating generously of their time and talents an easy choice.

"I have a lot less on my plate as compared to my time in dental school and residency," said Dr. Tarabishy. "The passion of the volunteers we work with and the novelty of working with dentists and volunteers from across the country to attain the singular objective of promoting oral health keeps me going."

When asked about his time commitment during dental school, Mr. Bhatti said, "First, I must give credit to my wife as well as all the other spouses of my executive team who have supported us. While I don't see myself as different than other dental students, Miswak Foundation has taught me to manage time effectively in utilizing every minute wisely."

Mr. Bhatti is also busy serving on several boards at Tufts, conducting research, and teaching through an American Dental Education Association fellowship.

"Throughout the week, I end up wearing a lot of different hats, and I think Miswak Foundation helped me realize my potential."

Miswak Foundation seeks volunteers for its mission trips as well as donations and in-kind donations of equipment and supplies. Visit miswakfoundation.org for more information on the organization and how to get involved.

For more information on global volunteer opportunities, visit the ADA's International Volunteer Web page: internationalvolunteer.ada.org.