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Volunteers contribute to improving oral health worldwide

International volunteer organizations seek help, donations

December 10, 2015

By David Burger


Workshopping: In October 2014, HVO volunteer Dr. Gregg Dickinson provided workshop training to Nicaraguan dental students covering topics including local anesthesia and X-ray procedures.
The ADA Foundation funds programs and distributes grants in the United States, and also gives out assistance to nonprofit organizations that help expand access to oral health care for disadvantaged populations around the world. Three organizations that serve patients abroad are seeking volunteers and donated supplies.

The ADA Foundation is the charitable arm of the Association that serves as a resource for not only those in need, but also those who want to help.

"Globally much of the world lacks adequate access to health care, and more importantly, oral health care," said Dr. Marshall Gallant, chair of the Foundation's International Programs Committee and a member of the Foundation's board of directors. "We often find that in the developing countries they have inadequate access to oral health care and some of the lowest ratios of dentists compared to the overall population. Further, they have a lack of a good health care infrastructure and dental education system."
 
He said the Foundation is committed through the use of volunteers and industry to bring dental care to those who otherwise would not obtain it. "For the individual, they can broaden their scope of work, open their minds to new experiences, learn about themselves while outside of their comfort zone, and to understand how good it feels to bring a smile to the face of people you are helping worldwide," he said.
 
The following three international volunteer organizations are seeking volunteers for overseas oral health care mission trips as well as donations of supplies.

Blanca's House

Blanca's House is a nonprofit volunteer organization that brings medical and dental services and education to the underserved people in the communities of Latin America pro bono. Founded in 2008 and based in New York, the nonprofit travels with more than 200 medical and dental personnel every year to countries throughout Latin America to provide free health care services.  All of the team members are volunteers, paying for their own travel expenses and donating their time and expertise.

Go Dental Mission, the new dental division of Blanca's House, is looking for dental professionals and non-dental volunteers to join their team: general dentists, oral surgeons, pediatric dentists, endodontists, periodontists, dental hygienists and even information technology personnel. Along with volunteers, the organization also needs dental chairs, portable cabinets, and dental supplies and equipment.


Connecting: Drs. Kayvan Fathimani (left) and Choo-Soon Kua, volunteers from the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, pose with local children during the July 2015 Zion Care International mission trip to Jamaica.

"Our goal is to provide dental services, education and, in the future, sustainability," said Ann Lalezarian, program coordinator of the dental division of Blanca's House, who runs the dental program along with Barbara Greene. Both are adjunct associate clinical professors at Farmingdale State College's Department of Dental Hygiene in the School of Health Sciences.

To help by donating services or supplies, visit godentalmission.com. The next dental mission is July 28-July 3. For any questions, email godentalmission@gmail.com.

Zion Care International

The mission of Zion Care International, incorporated in 2014, is to promote and preserve the health, welfare, and physical well-being of the economically challenged and needy throughout the Caribbean by engaging in charitable work projects.

"There is always a need for volunteers," said Dr. Patrick Nolan, an oral surgeon based at New York City's Montefiore Medical Center who has volunteered for Zion Care International.

The mission has a trip planned to the Dominican Republic and a trip to Jamaica in March and July of 2016, respectively.  There is a need for not only dental professionals but also monetary donations and dental equipment and supplies.

"In rural Jamaica, the ratio of dentist to residents can reach as high as 1 in 50,000," Dr. Nolan said. "We provide care to many that otherwise would never have access. With more volunteers, better instrumentation and handpieces, and simple dental supplies, more restorations can be accomplished."

He continued: "The care is not just limited to licensed practitioners — the trip is a great opportunity for dental students to gain quality experience and exposure to rewarding volunteer work early in their career."

To learn more, visit zioncareinternational.org.


Collaboration: Drs. Rushil Dang and Kaushal Patel, both HVO volunteers, traveled to Tanzania in May 2015, and worked with residents, students and faculty at Muhimbili University, including the faculty member in the center of the photo. During their assignment, they covered general dentistry, offering hands-on training, lecturing and mentoring.
Health Volunteer Overseas

For more than three decades, the volunteers of Health Volunteer Overseas have been dedicated to improving the availability and quality of health care through the education, training and professional development of the health workforce in resource-scarce countries.  The oral health programs of HVO were founded in collaboration with the ADA and the ADA Foundation currently sponsors these programs.

HVO currently has eight projects in seven countries actively recruiting volunteers. These projects are located in Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Laos, Nepal, Nicaragua and Tanzania. HVO works to train new health care providers and to encourage and sustain health care workers across 15 health disciplines, including dental health.

"The countries where HVO volunteers work not only face shortages in personnel but limits in the availability of supplies and technology," said Nancy Kelly, executive director of HVO. "One of the biggest challenges for volunteers is finding ways to improve and expand care within the resources available at the project site. Volunteers are seeking long-term, sustainable solutions to the provision of oral care in these countries and that means remaining aware of the resources that are available to the local students and staff and ensuring the lessons left behind can be useful."

To find out more information about HVO, visit hvousa.org.